October 13th, 2015

Getting the straight story on prostate cancer testing

Dear Cancer Dude

Dear Cancer Dude,

I'm passing 40 years, and was wondering when I should get a prostate cancer test? My Dad had prostate cancer and I would like to know my chances of inheriting that. Also, I'm a little nervous about the test-- you know, the "probe." Is it something I can do at home?




Dear Confused,

You may be thinking about two different tests here. The PSA blood screening is suggested for men between the ages of 40 and 75, and in men with increased risk. In your case, if Dad had it, you are two and a half times more likely to get it. So, you best git 'er done. If you want to cover all bases, opt for both the PSA and the Digital Rectal Exam. (We'll save the DRE for another time. DRE does not stand for Dreaded Reality Experience, and there is no Analog Rectal Exam).

PSA is a tricky thing. Determining what a high score means is complicated by your age, prostate gland size, how quickly the PSA number rises, and even some medications you may be taking may affect it. To top that off, only about 1 in 4 men with a positive PSA even have prostate cancer. Even with all this uncertainty, I think it's worth it for early treatment and less aggressive treatment if you have cancer. That's what your doctor is for.

It's just a simple blood test. But if you are needle averse, check out the website for Theranos, a new company partnering with Walgreens, to provide a tiny finger stick-- no needles. It can analyze samples as small as 1/1,000th the size of the typical blood draw. It's available in Phoenix, AZ and Palo Alto, CA Walgreens locations at this time, with more coming. So, it's almost like doing it at home. I wouldn't try a DRE at home, unless you just like to practice.

In yours,

Cancer Dude