Getting older means you might be making more trips to the doctor. Even if you’re feeling better than ever, your risk of certain health problems increases as you age. Regular check-ins with your doctor can help you stay on top of your health and catch problems early.
One health issue many older men face is the possibility of developing prostate cancer. The prostate is a part of the male reproductive system. And besides skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. It makes up about 15% of all new cancer cases in the United States. But it’s also highly treatable and survivable. The 5-year relative survival rate is more than 97%. That means that an estimated 97% of men with prostate cancer are still alive 5 years after diagnosis.
Any cancer diagnosis can be scary. And when it comes to prostate cancer, you may not even know you have it. That’s why screening tests can be helpful for catching it early.
But prostate cancer screening tests have risks as well as rewards, and there’s no set guidelines for routine screening. Whether to get screened is a decision you and your doctor can make together.
Here’s what you need to know about prostate cancer, how you can be screened for it and what you can do to prevent it.
You may be able to get certain preventive screenings with no copay or coinsurance if you have a qualified health insurance plan. Explore your options, or contact a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.
Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that affects your prostate. That’s a walnut-sized gland located between your bladder and penis. It plays an important role in your reproductive health: it supplies the fluids that sperm need to survive, and it helps push semen out during ejaculation.
Prostate cancer forms when cells in the prostate grow out of control, leading to a tumor in your prostate. Symptoms of prostate cancer can vary from person to person. You may not have any symptoms at all — that’s why screening is so important.
Talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:
Any of these symptoms could be a sign of an issue with your prostate, including cancer, so it’s important to let your doctor know.
If you have a prostate, there’s about a 1 in 8 chance that you could be diagnosed with prostate cancer in your lifetime. But certain risk factors raise your chances of getting the disease. Those include:
Having one of these risk factors doesn’t guarantee that you will get prostate cancer. But it does mean you’re at a higher risk. So, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about taking steps to protect yourself, such as getting screened. Early detection through screening can greatly improve your chances of successful treatment if you do develop prostate cancer.
The most common screening test for prostate cancer is a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. Your doctor will take a sample of your blood and check the PSA level. PSA is a protein made by your prostate. High levels of PSA in your blood can be a sign of prostate cancer.
PSA test results can be hard to interpret. PSA levels can be affected by other prostate problems, such as an enlarged prostate or a prostate infection. Certain medications can also raise PSA levels. And some men simply make more PSA than others.
Your doctor will need to interpret your results and decide if further testing is needed. They may recommend yearly PSA tests so they can monitor changes in your PSA levels over time.
Medicare covers a PSA blood test once a year for men over 50 at no cost to you. If you’re not on Medicare yet, check with your health plan to see if a PSA test is covered.
It’s worth noting that routine prostate cancer screenings may not be covered as one of the essential preventive services under the Affordable Care Act. That means you may have to pay a copay or coinsurance for your test.
Are you starting to think about Medicare? Call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.
There is no standard recommendation for routine prostate cancer screening for men. While early detection is important, screening does pose some risks. In particular, PSA tests can provide a false positive result. That’s when the test shows elevated PSA levels but you don’t actually have cancer.
If your levels are elevated, your doctor may recommend further testing, such as a prostate biopsy. To do a biopsy, your doctor will take a small sample of tissue from your prostate to check for cancer cells.
According to the National Cancer Institute, only about 1 in 4 men who get a prostate biopsy following a high PSA test are found to have prostate cancer.
Whether you need to get screened will depend on your age and unique risk factors. If you’re 55 or older, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening. If you’re Black, it’s a good idea to have that conversation earlier, around age 45. Your doctor can help you decide if a PSA test is right for you.
For informational purposes only. This information is compiled by UnitedHealthcare and does not diagnose problems or recommend specific treatment. Services and medical technologies referenced herein may not be covered under your plan. Please consult directly with your primary care physician if you need medical advice.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What Are the Symptoms of Prostate Cancer?” August 25. 2022. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/basic_info/symptoms.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What Is Prostate Cancer?” August 25, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/basic_info/what-is-prostate-cancer.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What Is Screening for Prostate Cancer?” August 25, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/basic_info/screening.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Who Is at Risk for Prostate Cancer?” February 7, 2023. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
Healthcare.gov. “Preventive care benefits for adults.” Retrieved from https://www.healthcare.gov/preventive-care-adults/ Accessed May 24, 2023.
Medicare.gov. “Prostate cancer screenings.” Retrieved from https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/prostate-cancer-screenings Accessed May 24, 2023.
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National Cancer Institute. “Prostate Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version” March 2, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/types/prostate/hp/prostate-prevention-pdq
National Cancer Institute. “Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test.” March 11, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/types/prostate/psa-fact-sheet
University of Washington School of Medicine. “Black men should start prostate-cancer screening at age 45.” June 30, 2021. Retrieved from https://newsroom.uw.edu/news/black-men-should-begin-screening-prostate-cancer-age-45