You may have up to twice the risk of getting prostate cancer if your father or brother has been diagnosed with it compared to a man with no relatives with the disease. There might also be a higher chance of you developing it if any male relative was under 60 when he was diagnosed.
Prostate cancer is far more likely to affect men over 55 and if it is found at an early stage it can often be more easily cured or respond better to treatment. It is often possible to detect an early cancer by testing the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood.
Your doctor will also give you a digital rectal examination (DRE). If either of these tests are abnormal, it is likely that further investigations are needed to see if cancer is present.
Make an informed choice before having a PSA test
Screening is when you are tested for a disease when you do not have symptoms. You might feel that having the PSA blood test before you have symptoms would be the right thing to do. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. (more)
This is where the Prostate Cancer Risk Calculator can help. Before you decide to undergo any testing, you can read about the pros and cons and discuss them further with your GP.
If you are younger than 50 and you do not have any symptoms your doctor is unlikely to carry out a PSA test even if you ask for one. Only if your relatives have suffered from the disease – at an early age – would a PSA test make sense.
The risk of overdiagnosing cancer
You might have read in the media about the results from the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC) – the world’s largest prostate cancer screening study which has been taking place over the last 15 years.(more) The ERSPC’s research found that using the PSA test to screen prostate cancer would significantly reduce death from the disease by almost a third. (more)
The research also found that prostate cancer screening risked causing overdiagnosis. The problem is that often the cancers found by screening grow so slowly – what doctors call indolent – that they are unlikely ever to cause any serious problems. They are not life-threatening. PSA is a useful test but it has its limitations. If you are found to have cancer, it cannot indicate how aggressive the cancer is. Your doctor may therefore know you have cancer – but not what type it is.
This affects the type of treatment you may be offered and this is why you need to talk over the implications of having a test if you do not have any symptoms or other risk factors.