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Do men need prostate cancer screenings?

It's a decision between you and your provider

This article was last updated on April 13, 2020. 

To test or not to test? That seems to be the question when it comes to men and prostate cancer screenings. 

The American Cancer Society External Site, along with other leading medical organizations, recommends informed decision-making when it comes to screening for prostate cancer External Site. This means each man should make his own decision, along with his medical care providers, about whether to be screened.

Screening can help find some types of cancer early, when it’s more easily treated. But for some men, the risks may outweigh the benefits External Site. For example, sometimes screening misses the cancer, and sometimes it finds something suspicious that turns out to be harmless. Also, there aren’t reliable tests yet to tell the difference between prostate cancer that’s going to grow so slowly it will never cause a man any problems, and dangerous cancer that will grow quickly.

In addition, studies have not been able to show that an annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening External Site helps men live longer. However, most men who find out they have cancer want to treat it. Some treatments can have urinary, bowel, and sexual side effects that may seriously affect a man’s quality of life. So, testing really is a decision that men should make after they have all the information.

There are two main screening tests for prostate cancer:

  1. The PSA test is a blood test to check the level of prostate-specific antigen in your blood. Most healthy men have levels under 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood. But everybody is different, and a lower PSA level doesn’t guarantee a man is free of cancer, just like a higher level doesn’t mean he has cancer.
  2. The digital rectal exam (DRE) External Site is a procedure where a doctor feels for any bumps or hard areas on the prostate (via the rectum) that may need to be tested for cancer. This test may be done with the PSA, or the PSA may be done alone.

When to get tested

The American Cancer Society recommends men learn as much as they can about prostate cancer screening risks and benefits and discuss the information with their doctor before deciding whether to be tested at all. Men at average risk of prostate cancer External Site should have this discussion starting at age 50. Men at higher-than-average risk should have the discussion starting at age 40 or 45.

Consider getting a prostate screening at age:

  • 40: If you have a family history of prostate cancer
  • 45: If you are African-American
  • 50: If you have no history and you are not African-American
  • 55 to 69: Discuss with your doctor
  • 70 and over: Screening not recommended

Prostate cancer facts

  • There are more than 3 million men living with prostate cancer in the U.S.
  • 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed in their lifetimes
  • Prostate cancer is 99 percent treatable if detected early

Get the care you need — your personal doctor can help

Choosing and using a personal doctor who you trust and knows your health history can help you make decisions about your care, like whether or not a prostate cancer screening is right for you. To choose the best doctor for you, consider these five tips

To find a list of providers near you, log in or register for myWellmark®.

Cost share for prostate screening tests may apply, according to your benefits. To avoid surprise costs, find out how much the tests cost before you go by logging in to myWellmark.