We all wish we’d live past the age of 80, but as early as 60, or even 50, we start to experience health problems. This is why it’s important for everyone to undergo regular health screenings in order to determine the presence of any malignant illness or disease that may be starting to develop.
For men, these tests include osteoporosis screening, frequent monitoring of their blood pressure, and prostate cancer screenings.
For now, let’s focus on prostate screenings.
The prostate is a part of the male reproductive system and is a walnut-sized gland near the bladder. It helps produce seminal fluid, and the muscles of this gland help this fluid pass through the urethra during ejaculation. Other fluids in the semen, when combined with prostate fluid, provide alkalinity to the semen, which helps the sperm thrive longer when they go into the acidic environment of the vagina.
Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), a component of the prostate fluid, also helps the sperm by liquefying it after it thickens after ejaculation. This allows the sperm to swim more freely.
Having laid how the prostate functions within the reproductive system, it’s important to note that its location puts it in danger, especially if it becomes swollen. When this happens, it can move against the urethra and irritate the bladder walls. It’s pretty much the start of many complications that could arise.
A prostate exam helps diagnose the causes of an enlarged prostate. For 2018, the American Cancer Society estimates that 1 man out of 9 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, the second most prevalent form of cancer in men, second to lung cancer.
A prostate exam usually comes with a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a screening for Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) levels. The results can also be used to check for hemorrhoids. Undergoing a screening doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not healthy, but it’s a way to detect early signs of a disease and get a better prognosis.
What goes down during a prostate exam?
It probably isn’t as complicated as you might think. During a prostate exam, you will be asked to disrobe and be given a paper or cloth to cover yourself with. Typically, you’ll be asked to position yourself in two ways:
- Lie on the table, on your left side and with knees bent to your chest.
- Stand with your feet apart and elbows placed firmly on the table.
The doctor will lubricate a gloved finger and insert it into the rectum at a downward angle. It’s not painful to go through a prostate exam. You might feel slight movement or pressure as your sphincter begins to relax. Afterward, the doctor will remove his finger, and give you wipes to clean up.
How do I know it’s time to take a prostate exam?
- If you’re over the age of 50, take a routine prostate exam. It’s very rare to be diagnosed with prostate cancer under this age. The risks of developing prostate cancer increase with age, so when you hit 50, it’s probably best to schedule an appointment.
- A family history of cancer gives you a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. If this is the case, you should have a prostate exam in your 40s. An immediate family member, like your father or your brother, with prostate cancer, increases your risk by up to three times. Also take note of the age they were diagnosed, as this should tell you when you should start taking prostate exams, as well.
- If your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, then you may have inherited a faulty gene that will make you up to five times more likely to develop prostate cancer.
- Ethnicity can also be a risk factor. Compared to Caucasian or Asian men, black Caribbean and black African men have a higher risk of getting prostate cancer.
- Frequent urination is one of the most common signs that it’s time to get a prostate exam. The prostate gland naturally gets larger as we grow older. This can pose a significant impact on your daily habits. You might find yourself having a difficult time urinating, having a slow flow, a constant, nagging feeling that you have to use the restroom, and the feeling that you still need to pee even after you just finished.
- Pain around the pelvis is a serious indication in and of itself that you should schedule an exam. A clear indicator of prostate cancer is pain that spreads to or occurs near the lower back, hips, upper thighs, and pelvis. If these parts of your body ache at the same time frequently, don’t wait too long before scheduling that exam.
- Men who frequently eat red meat and high-fat dairy products have a higher risk of getting prostate cancer.
- If you live a sedentary lifestyle, you might want to start doing more workouts. A regular flow and circulation of blood reduces inflammation throughout the body and promotes better oxygen circulation.