Is prostate cancer screening important?

Farjaad M. Siddiq, M.D., Urologist
Farjaad M. Siddiq, M.D., Urologist

The goal of screening for prostate cancer is to find cancer early, before it starts to cause symptoms, in the hope that it can be treated more effectively. Prostate cancer exhibits no early warning signs, so screening exams are the only way to detect it.

About screening tests

The two main screening options for prostate cancer are:

Digital rectal exam (DRE). In this quick exam, the doctor feels part of the prostate for hard spots or lumps. A DRE may be uncomfortable, but not painful. While the DRE will find some cancers, used by itself the test can miss many cancers, especially those that are difficult to reach during the exam.

PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test. This test looks for abnormal levels of a protein produced by prostate cells.

Neither screening test is perfect, but they can help detect prostate cancer in men who have no symptoms, especially when they're used together, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).