September is National Prostate Health Month, drawing attention to a question I get every day: Should I get a PSA test, doc?
The primary screening tool used to detect prostate cancer is a blood test that detects prostate-specific antigen (PSA) – a protein that is produced by the prostate gland. There is obviously great value in knowing your PSA number, as the higher a patient’s PSA level, the more likely he is to have prostate cancer.
I cannot definitively tell you whether or not you should undergo PSA testing – that’s a personal decision to be made by the patient, and the patient alone. As a urologist, however, I can help men put their personal histories in context with medical understanding and expertise. Ultimately, to be an informed patient, you must be informed about your health. Put simply, Your Numbers Matter.
Learning your PSA number is the most common procedure to screen men for prostate cancer, and without prostate cancer screening, you can’t detect prostate cancer. If you can’t detect prostate cancer, you can’t treat prostate cancer.
Many of my patients are aware that the majority of prostate cancers grow slowly. A commonly repeated phrase in the media is that “men are more likely to die with prostate cancer than to die of it.” And while that may be true, it’s critical that patients and health care providers alike do not diminish the risks associated with the disease. After all, cancer is cancer, and prostate cancer – specifically – is the most common cancer among men in the United States, claiming upwards of 20,000 lives annually.
Thankfully, prostate cancer can often be found early, when it is most likely to be cured. The trick is to weed through your own medical and family history with your urologist. But, for many men, even getting to the doctor’s office poses a challenge.
I often encounter patients who have the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality,” keeping them from making preemptive appointments, or taking the initiative to become more well-informed about their health.
This September is as good a time as any to take charge of your health. Rather than delaying your checkup for yet another year, man up. Check in with your urologist to learn your PSA number. Knowing your numbers will help you make smart lifestyle and health care choices while allowing your physician to more easily treat and prevent common, but often overlooked, urological conditions, such as prostate cancer.