What you need to know about prostate cancer and screening options

In Canada, it is estimated that 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed non-skin cancer and the third-leading cause of cancer-related death in men. September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month, a time to continue raising awareness and educating people about one of the most common cancers in men.

It is believed that at any given time, up to 25% of men are affected by urinary issues, to some degree or another, and as they age, their chances of experiencing and suffering symptoms increase dramatically. One of the most common causes of a bladder obstruction is an enlarged prostate, however, urinary symptoms also have the potential to be caused by cancer. If you experience symptoms, including difficulty urinating, urinating too often, or find that you are getting up frequently at night to urinate, you may want to talk to your health care provider about testing and treatment options.

The prostate-specific-antigen (PSA) blood test is one of the most widely used screening tools for prostate cancer and checks for the presence of a protein that is produced by the prostate cells. The benefits of PSA screening are not consistent. It can also produce false positives (for example, a result that shows that prostate cancer is present when it is not) that can lead to other harms including further tests (such as biopsies) that may not be necessary. It may also result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment; and treatment complications, such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction When it comes to taking the test, experts are divided. There has been a growing body of evidence showing that any small benefits that may be associated with PSA screening may not outweigh the potential harms associated with further testing and unnecessary treatments. 

The decision to be screened for any disease, including prostate cancer, should involve the weighing of the pros and cons, along with one’s personal risk factors and preferences, in collaboration with a health care professional. Patient decision aids, often available in different media including print, video, and web-based formats can be helpful for your own learning and to inform discussions with a health care provider. This can make the decision-making process feel less overwhelming and help you navigate more clearly.

To learn more about prostate cancer, screening options, and access patient decision aids that may be helpful to you, consult our resources below.

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