Learning About Prostate Cancer
How Is Prostate Cancer Found?
Most men with localized prostate cancer have few or no symptoms at all. These cancers are usually found during a routine exam or through screening tests. The most common tests are a digital rectal exam and a blood test called PSA (prostate specific antigen).
Digital Rectal Exam
The doctor or nurse feels the prostate gland through the rectum with a finger. This is done to check the shape of the prostate and to check for hard spots.
PSA Blood Test
PSA is a protein made by the prostate gland. A blood test tells how much PSA is in the blood. Many men with prostate cancer have PSA levels that are higher than normal or have increased over time.
When a digital rectal exam or PSA blood test is not normal, more testing may be done. This might include a biopsy of the prostate.
The prostate is a gland about the size of a walnut. It is found only in men. It makes and stores the liquid that carries sperm. The prostate is located near the bladder and rectum (the last part of the bowel before the anus). It is just below the bladder and surrounds the urethra (the tube that drains urine from the bladder).
A biopsy is when the doctor takes out tiny pieces of the prostate gland with a needle. The pieces are examined under a microscope to look for cancer cells. If the biopsy shows prostate cancer, the lab gives it a Gleason score.
Gleason scores range from 2 to 10. They give an idea of how fast the cancer may grow. A lower Gleason score (2 to 5) means the cancer is slower to grow. A higher score (8 to 10) means the cancer is more “aggressive” and more likely to spread. Most men with prostate cancer have a score in the middle (6 to 7).
Surviving prostate cancer is more likely with lower Gleason scores. This is true with any prostate cancer treatment or watchful waiting.
The charts below show that surviving prostate cancer is more likely with lower Gleason scores. “Age” means the age when the cancer was found. The men in this research study used watchful waiting or hormone treatment. Keep in mind that some men who survived prostate cancer died of other causes.