What are the screening tests for prostate cancer?
Digital Rectal Examination - A digital rectal examination (DRE) is performed by a doctor during a regular office visit. For this examination, the doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum and feels the prostate gland through the rectal wall to check for bumps or abnormal areas. Although this test has been used for many years, whether DRE is effective in decreasing the number of deaths from prostate cancer has not been determined.
Transrectal Ultrasonography - During this examination, high-frequency sound waves are sent out by a probe about the size of the index finger, which is inserted into the rectum. The waves bounce off the prostate gland and produce echoes that a computer uses to create a picture called a sonogram. Doctors examine the sonogram for echoes that might represent abnormal areas. Whether ultrasonography is effective in decreasing mortality from prostate cancer has not been determined.
PSA - For this test, a blood sample is drawn and the amount of prostate- specific antigen (PSA) present is determined in a laboratory. PSA is a marker that, if present in higher than average amounts, may indicate prostate cancer cells. However, PSA levels may also be higher in men who have noncancerous prostate conditions. Scientists are studying ways to improve the reliability of the PSA test.
Because unnecessary treatment due to false screening results could be harmful, research is being done to determine the most reliable method for prostate cancer screening. For example, scientists at the National Cancer Institute are studying the value of early detection by DRE and PSA on reducing the number of deaths caused by prostate cancer.
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