Prostate cancer is estimated to affect one in six American men at some point during their lifetime. It is the most commonly diagnosed non-skin cancer in the United States today. So exactly how is the diagnosis prostate cancer made? There are actually several steps involved in the process of diagnosis prostate cancer.
The first step in the process is often detecting an abnormality in a digital rectal exam or on a PSA test. Both of these screening techniques are recommended for men over 50, or over 40 if a man has additional risk factors. A digital rectal exam involves the physician feeling for physical abnormalities such as hardness, enlargement or tenderness of the prostate. The PSA test measures the level of prostate specific antigen in the blood, which if high, could indicate the need for further testing to make the diagnosis prostate cancer.
It is important to note that while these screening tests do catch early cases of prostate cancer, they also have false positives. In fact, one study showed that of all men who initially have a higher than normal PSA level, only 25 to 30% will end up with the diagnosis prostate cancer. Furthermore, just because the PSA levels and digital rectal exam are normal, that does not mean this slow growing form of cancer is not present. Subsequent exams may reveal the cancer, which is why regular screening is important.
If abnormalities are found in these screening tests, a man is often referred to a urologist, who will perform other tests to try to confirm the diagnosis prostate cancer, or eliminate it. The first, least invasive test that can be performed is a transrectal ultrasound. In the procedure, a small probe is inserted into the rectum and sound waves are used to create an image of the prostate gland on an attached monitor. If the transrectal ultrasound shows no abnormalities, the patient may be advised to simply repeat the PSA test and digital rectal exam in several months. If the transrectal ultrasound is abnormal, the likelihood of a diagnosis prostate cancer increases.
If the transrectal ultrasound is abnormal, a prostate biopsy is usually ordered. Some physicians actually prefer to skip the transrectal ultrasound and go straight for a biopsy if cancer is suspected, because this method is the best way to diagnose and stage prostate cancer. The biopsy is done in the same fashion as the transrectal ultrasound, but in this procedure a needle is actually passed through the tissue of the rectum into the prostate gland and several core samples are taken.
These core samples are then put under a microscope for examination. If cancer cells are present, then the diagnosis prostate cancer is confirmed. When such a confirmation is made, the core samples are further studied to determine the type of cancer and the stage and grade. Most prostate cancers are known as prostatic adenocarcinoma because they originate in the secretory cells of the prostate. By determining the stage and grade of the prostatic adenocarcinoma, the appropriate treatment method can then be recommended.
The processes of screening for and confirming diagnosis of prostate cancer are actually relatively simple and non-invasive. Most procedures are done right in the doctor's office and cause little to mild discomfort. The key is that if prostate cancer is diagnosed and treated early enough, there is a high success rate and high survival rate. So, a little discomfort can certainly be tolerated if it means adding years onto one's life.