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Screening for  cancer

This section covers these topics:

Benefits and harms of screening

There are benefits and potential harms associated with cancer screening.

  • Most  cancers can be very slow growing and unlikely to spread or cause harm. Detecting and treating these slow-growing cancers early may not improve health outcomes and side effects from biopsy or treatment may cause harm.
  • Some cancers can be very aggressive, spreading to other organs and increasing the risk of death. Finding these cancers early through screening may help men live longer. These aggressive cancers are more common in:
    • African American men.
    • Men with inherited mutations in certain genes, including , and .
    • Men with a family history of young-onset or aggressive cancer.

The benefits and risks of  cancer screening differ based on several personal factors:

  • age
  • overall health 
  • lifetime risk for cancer
  • risk for developing aggressive disease
  • personal preferences

Several expert groups have guidelines for cancer screening and each is slightly different. Most experts agree that men should have a discussion with their doctor about cancer screening, that includes:

  • their risk for developing cancer
  • their risk for developing aggressive disease
  • the benefits and harms of cancer screening compared to not screening

Types of screening

Screening for cancer may include a combination of the following:

  • Specific Antigen () is a blood test used to screen for cancer. 
  • During a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) a doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the  gland for enlargement or lumps.
  • Clinical trials are looking at screening using imaging

Screening for high risk men

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has guidelines for  cancer screening in men who are at high risk for cancer due to an inherited mutation.

  • African American men should consider annual screening with and DRE beginning at age 40.
  • Men with an inherited mutation, should begin annual screening with and DRE at age 40.
  • Men with an inherited mutation should consider annual screening with and DRE beginning at age 40.
  • There has not been enough research to show a benefit from early, or annual screening for cancer in men who have an , , , or other mutations linked to cancer. For these men, experts recommend managing these risks based on family history of cancer.  

Men at high risk for cancer should consider enrolling in a screening clinical trial. 

Screening for average risk men

There are several different guidelines for cancer screening in average risk men:

  • NCCN recommends beginning at age 45, men should have a conversation with their doctor about their risk for cancer and the benefits, risks and limitations of cancer screening using and DRE.
    • For men who choose to undergo screening, and DRE should be performed every 2-4 years as long as DRE is normal and is low (<1 ng/ml).
    • For men with slightly elevated of 1-3 ng/ml and normal DRE, screening should be repeated every 1-2 years. 
    • After age 75, screening every 1-4 years should be considered for healthy men. 
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force () recommends that men who are 55 to 69 years old should talk to their doctor about the benefits and harms of screening for cancer and make their own decisions about being screened for cancer with a specific antigen () test.
    • Men who are 70 years old and older should not be screened for cancer routinely.
  • The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends beginning at age 50, men should discuss the benefits, risks, and limitations of cancer screening with their doctor in order to make an informed decision about whether to be screened for cancer.
    • For men who choose screening,  and DRE should be performed every 2 years as long as DRE is normal and is low (<2.5 ng/ml).
    • For men who choose screening,  and DRE should be performed every year if DRE is normal and is 2.5 ng/ml or higher.

When an abnormality is found

If the feels abnormal on DRE, or the is high or rising over time, doctors will usually order a biopsy of the . Doctors may also order imaging tests, such as or additional tests.

Find Experts
Find Experts

The following resources can help you locate an expert near you or via telehealth. 

Finding urologists

Sexual health experts

Some types of cancer treatment may affect sexual health. 

Other ways to find experts

updated: 04/03/2023

Open Clinical Trials
Open Clinical Trials

The following are studies looking at ways to screen for cancer in people at high risk: 

updated: 03/12/2023