Timing Matters: When to Be Screened for Prostate Cancer

Frequently Asked Questions About Prostate Cancer Screening

A doctor and patient discuss a prostate exam.
A doctor and patient discuss a prostate exam. Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Many men wonder when they should start being screened for prostate cancer but ultimately put off asking because they are either uncomfortable with the idea of prostate screening or they wrongly assume that screening is only meant for the very old. Screening is especially important because it can help find cancer cells early, when treatment is more likely to be effective.

The American Cancer Society recommends yearly prostate cancer screening should begin at different ages depending on your level of cancer risk:

  • Age 50 for men who are at average risk
  • Age of 45 for men who are at a higher risk
  • Age 40 for men at an even higher risk

Discuss with your doctor when the right time to begin yearly exams for you may be. Together, you can make a decision based on your family history and personal health status.

When discussing your needs with your doctor, ask about the risks, uncertainties and potential benefits of prostate cancer screenings in order to make an informed decision. Since prostate cancer can grow slowly, men without symptoms of prostate cancer and a life expectancy of less than 10 years are not likely to benefit from the screenings and should not be offered testing.

What Does "High Risk For Prostate Cancer" Mean?

Higher risk people include:

  • Those who have immediate family members who have suffered from prostate cancer (father, brother, or son) diagnosed at an early age (younger than 65 years old)
  • African American men

    People at an even higher risk for prostate cancer include:

    • Men with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age

    What Does Prostate Screening Entail?

    There are two types of prostate screening exams:

    • The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test
    • The digital rectal exam (DRE) (where the doctor puts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland)

      Prostate cancer can often be found early by testing the amount of PSAs in the blood. Though screening can help find many prostate cancers early, neither test is 100% accurate. If the result of either one of these tests is abnormal, your doctor will order further testing (such as a transrectal ultrasound and a prostate biopsy) to find out if cancer is present.

      How Long Should I Wait Between Screenings?

      Assuming there are no signs of prostate cancer found during screening, the time between future screenings depends on the results of the PSA blood test.

      • Men who have a PSA of less than 2.5 ng/mL may only need to be retested every two years
      • Men whose PSA level is 2.5 ng/mL or higher should be screened every year

      Consult with your doctor on how often you should be screened for prostate cancer. Your diet, health and lifestyle habits may all be a factor on the timing and frequency of your tests.

      More Prostate Cancer Screening Resources

      If you still have questions and want to know more about prostate cancer screening, some common questions are answered in the following posts:


      American Cancer Society. recommendations for prostate cancer early detection. Accessed January 28, 2016.

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