How Do Doctors Diagnose Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosis in men, behind non-melanoma skin cancer. It’s also one of the leading causes of cancer death in men. As medical technology advances, doctors can more accurately diagnose cases of prostate cancer in their patients. But how does this process work? If you’re experiencing the symptoms of prostate cancer, your doctor may use some of the following methods to determine whether or not you have prostate cancer.

Start with Medical History and a Physical

If you or your doctor is concerned that you may have prostate cancer, they’ll start by exploring your medical history, and may ask you about any symptoms you’re experiencing. They’ll also inquire into any family medical history of related diseases and cancers. 

From there, your doctor may perform a physical examination, including a DRE, or digital rectal exam. Wearing a sanitary, lubricated glove, your doctor will insert a finger into your rectum to check for any bumps, hard areas, or abnormalities on your prostate that could be signs of cancer. The DRE can be used to see if the cancer is on one or both sides of the prostate, or if the growth has spread to other tissues surrounding the prostate. 

Prostate-Specific Antigen Test

After examining your medical history and conducting a DRE, your doctor may order a prostate-specific antigen test or PSA. PSA is a protein that’s created in the prostate gland and is mostly found in semen, but also in blood. When there is abnormal activity in the prostate, the amount of PSA in the blood increases. The PSA test measures the values in your blood, and tracks change over time, all in relation to the size of your prostate. Your doctor will use the results of this exam to determine whether or not to arrange for a biopsy. 

Prostate Biopsy

After the DRE and a PSA test, your doctor will examine the results. If these results indicate that you may have prostate cancer, your doctor will arrange for you to have a prostate biopsy done. This procedure requires small samples of the prostate to be removed and examined in a lab. Typically, a urologist will use a core needle biopsy to take samples. During the biopsy itself, your doctor might use a transrectal ultrasound to guide the needle into the prostate. The needle is directed into the prostate, and a tissue sample is collected. Generally, you’ll have 12 samples drawn from different parts of the prostate.

Surprisingly, this procedure is not terribly uncomfortable and only takes about 10–15 minutes. Afterward, your doctor will give you antibiotics to prevent any infection. You might feel some discomfort for a few days.

CT Scans

Your doctor may set up a computed tomography (CT) scan of your body in order to measure and monitor the growth of the tumors on your prostate. The CT scan uses x-rays from different angles to create a 3D model of your prostate and any tumors on or in it. CT scans are also used to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body nearby. In particular, your doctor will check to see if it has spread to the lymph nodes.

MRI Fusion Biopsy

Another way your doctor can conduct a biopsy using a magnetic resonance imaging scan paired with a TRUS. The combination of these two technologies works to scan any suspect areas of the prostate and identify areas that need further examination. After the MRI, the ultrasound is used. The scans from each device are used to create a 3D image that highlights any areas of growth. MRI fusion biopsies are very accurate and are more likely to identify areas that are cancerous.

The Number of Diagnoses is Falling

While prostate cancer can be a grim diagnosis, it’s important to know more and more individuals with prostate cancer recover, and that the annual rates of prostate cancer deaths have fallen steadily since 1999. From 1993 to 2016, the number of prostate cancer deaths dropped by more than half. Indeed, the 5-year survival rate for local or regional prostate cancer is nearly 100 percent. 

Start Treatment Today

If you’ve been diagnosed with an early stage of prostate cancer, you may be eligible for a HIFU treatment. This non-invasive treatment utilizes high-intensity focused ultrasound to destroy harmful tissues and growths in and on the prostate.

HIFU can be found in clinics throughout the country. Find a provider near you and then schedule a consultation.

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