There are several ways to check the prostate, the most common being the PSA (prostate specific antigen) and the Digital Rectal Exam (DRE).
The PSA test involves taking a small quantity of blood, and measures levels of prostate specific antigen in the blood. Many men have this test taken along with other tests for sugar, thyroid and cholesterol, and you will hardly feel a thing!
There is much debate currently about the usefulness of the PSA test, and yes, it isn’t foolproof, but then again neither are many screening tests. What we can say, is that it is currently the best indicator we have and until there is something more effective, isn’t it better to have a non-definitive test than no test at all.
Prostate Cancer Research Foundation and many other charities are doing what they can to rectify the situation with the test, and as well as funding research looking at other tests, with urine and mouth swabs, we are also lobbying the government as part of the Prostate Cancer Charter for Action and asking them to look at funding an international forum on possible future tests for prostate cancer.
Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)
The prostate is not the easiest organ to find! It is located inside, straight up, from a point halfway between the base of the scrotum (the bag of skin containing the testicles) and the rectum (back passage). Its location rules out external examination.
The DRE requires the doctor or specialist to insert a gloved finger into the back passage and feel the condition of the prostate gland.
We know that the DRE sounds horrible, intrusive, and undignified, but trust us, a moment of embarrassment is a small price to pay for knowing what is going on with your prostate and acting accordingly.
If you are having your prostate gland examined, you will have a rectal ultrasound. This involves a small ultrasound microphone being put into your back passage to get a clearer picture of the prostate. This more often than not is rather uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt and won’t take long.
If a lump or hardening of your prostate is found during your DRE, your specialist may take a sample of cells (a biopsy) to examine under a microscope.
The biopsy is done in the outpatients’ department, and before you have it, you will be told what will happen and shown the ultrasound and very fine needle that is used to take the tissue samples (the biopsy).
Please do remember that you always have a choice over your treatment, if you feel uncomfortable about the biopsy then talk to your urologist, or if you don’t feel able, give the Cancerbackup helpline a call on 0808 800 1234, this is run by specialist cancer nurses and can answer any question you may have about all aspects of your treatment.