When you hear the term prostate cancer you know it can’t be good. But surprisingly, what’s even worse—to some guys anyway—is the dreaded prostate exam. Who would’ve thought? Maybe it’s the latex glove that immediately comes to mind. Or maybe it’s the uncertainty surrounding prostate-specific antigen tests. Regardless of the cause, prostate exams are a no-go for most men.
The fact remains that prostate cancer is still a big deal. For instance, did you know that prostate cancer is actually more common in men than breast cancer is in women? Or that nearly 3 million American men currently live with the disease? Despite all these facts, though, just the thought of having a prostate exam is enough to keep most guys far, far away from the doctor’s office. But with recent studies calling into question the accuracy and value of prostate exams, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all. So what exactly does this mean for you? It’s time we set the record straight. That’s why we’re here to give you the straight facts about prostate exams and cancer, no sugar-coating or fluff. Let’s put all of those misconceptions and myths to rest. 1. Prostate cancer diagnoses are lower than ever. While this is absolutely true, there’s a catch. Part of why statistics are lower than ever before—the number of new cases has decreased by 53% since 1992—is because screening rates are also lower than ever. The fewer exams and tests that are done, the fewer cases there are to report. 2. Prostate exams are effective. Let’s start by acknowledging the elephant in the room: it’s true that the prostate-specific antigen test (PSA) and the digital rectal exam (DRE) are not 100% accurate. However, this is why there are additional measures and tests (e.g., ultrasounds and biopsies) in place, to ensure a precise diagnosis before treatment is pursued.
So, no, this does not mean that prostate exams should be avoided or skipped all-together. Instead, start talking with your primary care provider at age 40 to determine the best method of screening, and at what age.
3. Prostate exams are not painful or uncomfortable. The traditional method of prostate exams (i.e. DREs), is often the butt of many jokes. However, it’s not the only option when it comes to prostate exams. Nowadays, you can opt for the prostate-specific antigen test, which is done with a simple blood draw.
It should be noted, though, that DREs are still a great option—if you can swallow your pride—as they can also identify prostate abnormalities (like non-cancerous prostate enlargement), as well as any gastro bleeding and early signs of colorectal cancer.
4. Prostate cancer treatments are wide-ranging. Depending on the stage of the cancer, there are a variety of different treatment options available, including: active surveillance (i.e. routine screenings to monitor tumor growth), surgery, external radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy. As with all types of cancer, the best treatment option varies from individual to individual.
And if you’ve heard about any of the scary side effects of prostate cancer treatments—incontinence or impotence—just remember that early detection allows for the least-aggressive treatments (like active surveillance). Yet another reason to talk with your primary care provider about prostate exams.
5. Prostate cancer is not a death sentence. A cancer diagnosis is never a good thing, period. So if you believe that you may be at risk, or you have a family history of this disease, just remember that the 5-year survival rate is nearly 100% (especially if diagnosed early). Even better, the 10-year survival rate is 98% and the 15-year survival rate is 96%, that’s not too shabby at all! 6. There are other things you can do keep your prostate healthy. This may not come as a surprise, but like most other types of cancer, the key to prevention is chalked up to those everyday decisions. Namely, getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet with lots of produce—and apparently your prostate really likes soy and selenium-rich foods, too—don’t smoke and talk to your primary care provider about prostate exams beginning at age 40. You got this, man!