How To Tell If Your Cancer Has Metastasized
Prostate cancer metastasis may be suspected if you have specific symptoms such as new lower back pain or elevated liver enzymes. These may be signs your cancer has spread to your spine or your liver, respectively. If your prostate-specific antigen levels continue to rise despite treatment, especially if they are rising particularly fast, this may be a sign that cancer is metastasizing somewhere in your body.
Use In Men Already Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer
The PSA test can also be useful if you have already been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
- In men just diagnosed with prostate cancer, the PSA level can be used together with physical exam results and tumor grade to help decide if other tests are needed.
- The PSA level is used to help determine the stage of your cancer. This can affect your treatment options, since some treatments are not likely to be helpful if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
- PSA tests are often an important part of determining how well treatment is working, as well as in watching for a possible recurrence of the cancer after treatment .
How Do Doctors Test For Prostate Cancer
There is no single test for prostate cancer, so your GP is your first point of call – and they will discuss the options with you.
Diagnosis through the NHS is likely to involve:
- Giving a urine sample
- A blood test to measure your prostate-specific antigen levels
- And a digital rectal examination
PSA is a protein produced by the prostate gland – which all men have.
Your levels increase with age and prostate cancer can, but doesn’t always, increase production of PSA.
But this isn’t a specific test for prostate cancer – 65 per cent of blokes with raised PSA levels don’t have cancer, while 15 per cent of those with tumours get a false negative.
Because of these factors, there is currently no screening programme for prostate cancer here in Britain – so it’s up to you to arrange tests, if you think you could be at risk.
For a definitive diagnosis, some blokes are referred to hospital for a transrectal ultrasound-guided biopsy .
The procedure can be painful, but it allows docs to take a tissue sample from your prostate.
Unfortunately, this test can miss one in five cancers – so you may need a follow-up test if your symptoms persist.
Thankfully, thousands of men could avoid painful invasive cancer tests thanks to a new prostate scan.
The MRI technique works in just over a quarter of cases, a study has found.
The MRI scan is also 12 per cent better at picking up deadly tumours and 13 per cent less likely to flag up a harmless cancer as needing treatment.
When Should I Get Tested
Visit Am I at Risk? to learn more. All men are at risk of prostate cancer, so it is important to talk with your doctor to make an informed decision. Check out our recommended age and testing guidelines, which are based on the NCCN provided recommendations.
Detecting prostate cancer early gives you the best chance of living longer. In fact, more than 99 percent of men survive prostate cancer when it is caught early.
Watch prostate cancer experts, Dr. Lowentritt and Dr. Siegel in this video discuss detection and diagnosis:
How Can I Check For Signs Of Prostate Cancer
In most cases, prostate cancer doesnt have any symptoms until the growth is big enough to put pressure on the urethra.
- Straining and taking a long time while peeing
- Feeling that your bladder hasnt emptied fully
Many mens prostates get larger as they age because of non-cancerous conditions called prostate enlargement and benign prostatic hyperplasia.
In fact, these two conditions are more common than prostate cancer but that doesnt mean the symptoms should be ignored.
The signs that the cancer has SPREAD include bone, back or testicular pain, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss.
Men who are black, overweight, over 50 or have a family history of prostate cancer are most at risk.
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Getting The Results Of The Biopsy
Your biopsy samples will be sent to a lab, where they will be looked at with a microscope to see if they contain cancer cells. Getting the results usually takes at least 1 to 3 days, but it can sometimes take longer. The results might be reported as:
- Positive for cancer: Cancer cells were seen in the biopsy samples.
- Negative for cancer: No cancer cells were seen in the biopsy samples.
- Suspicious: Something abnormal was seen, but it might not be cancer.
If the biopsy is negative
If the prostate biopsy results are negative , and the chance that you have prostate cancer isnt very high based on your PSA level and other tests, you might not need any more tests, other than repeat PSA tests sometime later.
But even if many samples are taken, biopsies can still sometimes miss a cancer if none of the biopsy needles pass through it. This is known as a false-negative result. If your doctor still strongly suspects you have prostate cancer , your doctor might suggest:
- Getting other lab tests to help get a better idea of whether or not you might have prostate cancer. Examples of such tests include the Prostate Health Index , 4Kscore test, PCA3 tests , and ConfirmMDx. These tests are discussed in Whats New in Prostate Cancer Research?
- Getting a repeat prostate biopsy. This might include getting additional samples of parts of the prostate not biopsied the first time, or using imaging tests such as MRI to look more closely for abnormal areas to target.
Prostate cancer grade
What Happens During A Digital Rectal Exam
Your health care provider will insert a gloved finger into the rectum and feel the prostate for hard, lumpy, or abnormal areas. The test takes only a few minutes to complete.
You may feel slight, momentary discomfort during the test. The procedure does not cause significant pain or any damage to the prostate.
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Medical History And Physical Exam
If your doctor suspects you might have prostate cancer, he or she will ask you about any symptoms you are having, such as any urinary or sexual problems, and how long you have had them. You might also be asked about possible risk factors, including your family history.
Your doctor will also examine you. This might include a digital rectal exam , during which the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to feel for any bumps or hard areas on the prostate that might be cancer. If you do have cancer, the DRE can sometimes help tell if its only on one side of the prostate, if its on both sides, or if its likely to have spread beyond the prostate to nearby tissues. Your doctor may also examine other areas of your body.
After the exam, your doctor might then order some tests.
What Are The Limitations Of Prostate Ultrasound Imaging
Men who have had the tail end of their bowel removed during prior surgery are not good candidates for ultrasound of the prostate gland because this type of ultrasound typically requires placing a probe into the rectum. However, the radiologist may attempt to examine the prostate gland by placing a regular ultrasound imaging probe on the perineal skin of the patient, between the legs and behind the scrotum of the patient. Sometimes the gland can be examined by ultrasound this way, but the images may not be as detailed as with the transrectal probe. An MRI of the pelvis may be obtained as an alternative imaging test, because it may be obtained with an external receiver coil.
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What Kind Of Treatment Will I Need
There are many ways to treat prostate cancer. The main kinds of treatment are observation, active surveillance, surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and chemo. Sometimes more than one kind of treatment is used.
The treatment thats best for you will depend on:
- Your age
- Any other health problems you might have
- The stage and grade of the cancer
- Your feelings about the need to treat the cancer
- The chance that treatment will cure the cancer or help in some way
- Your feelings about the side effects that might come with treatment
Prostate Cancer Urine Test
This test detects the gene PCA3 in your urine and can also help your doctorbetter assess your prostate cancer risk.
PCA3 is a prostate-specific noncoding RNA. Its a gene thats only in yourprostate. If the gene is overexpressed , then theres a greater chance you have prostate cancer.
Like PSA and PHI tests, this isnt definitive, either. But data suggestthat when cancer is present, the PCA3 will be positive 80 percent of thetime. This test can also help your doctor determine whether a biopsy isnecessary.
Both of these new tests are more accurate than the PSA test. Your doctormay recommend one or more than one, based on the specifics of your case.
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Lymph Node Biopsy As A Separate Procedure
A lymph node biopsy is rarely done as a separate procedure. Its sometimes used when a radical prostatectomy isnt planned , but when its still important to know if the lymph nodes contain cancer.
Most often, this is done as a needle biopsy. To do this, the doctor uses an image to guide a long, hollow needle through the skin in the lower abdomen and into an enlarged node. The skin is numbed with local anesthesia before the needle is inserted to take a small tissue sample. The sample is then sent to the lab and looked at for cancer cells.
How Does The Doctor Know I Have Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer tends to grow slowly over many years. Most men with early prostate cancer dont have changes that they notice. Signs of prostate cancer most often show up later, as the cancer grows.
Some signs of prostate cancer are trouble peeing, blood in the pee , trouble getting an erection, and pain in the back, hips, ribs, or other bones.
If signs are pointing to prostate cancer, tests will be done. Most men will not need all of them, but here are some of the tests you may need:
PSA blood test: PSA is a protein thats made by the prostate gland and can be found in the blood. Prostate cancer can make PSA levels go up. Blood tests will be done to see what your PSA level is and how it changes over time.
Transrectal ultrasound : For this test, a small wand is put into your rectum. It gives off sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off the prostate gland. The echoes are made into a picture on a computer screen.
MRI: This test uses radio waves and strong magnets to make detailed pictures of the body. MRI scans can be used to look at the prostate and can show if the cancer has spread outside the prostate to nearby organs.
Prostate biopsy: For a prostate biopsy, the doctor uses a long, hollow needle to take out small pieces of the prostate where the cancer might be. This is often done while using TRUS or MRI to look at the prostate. The prostate pieces are then checked for cancer cells. Ask the doctor what kind of biopsy you need and how its done.
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If You Do Choose Screening Should You Have A Rectal Examination
Doctors have a hackneyed saying about rectal examinations: if you dont put your finger in it, youll put your foot in it.
The point is that we can miss important things by not doing a rectal examination. This can be true for some people with symptoms, such as rectal bleeding. But on balance, it seems its not the case for prostate cancer screening.
We need to decide where to set the threshold for what is considered normal for diagnostic tests. This is the case for the PSA blood test, where traditionally we use a cut-off of four nanograms per millilitre as dividing normal from abnormal .
Set the cut-off too low, close to zero, and well send nearly all men for biopsies that are largely unnecessary. Set the cut-off too high and well miss many prostate cancers. Unfortunately, theres no magic threshold that perfectly divides the men with the cancers we want to catch from the men we neednt trouble.
Does the digital rectal examination improve matters when added to the PSA test? Not really. The rectal examination does pick up slightly more cancers, but these seem to be mostly the less aggressive cancers, less likely to be the ones we need worry about. In doing so, it causes more false alarms, by creating two or more false positive results for every cancer found.
Why would we want to perform an examination that many men find unpleasant when we could instead simply interpret the blood test a little differently?
Another Option: Digital Rectal Exams
Most prostate biopsies are driven by PSA results. Urologists also use the digital rectal exam, or DRE.
“The American Urological Association hasn’t recommended rectal exams because there has yet to be a randomized trial in which some men get the rectal exam and some don’t. Based on who lives and dies, this would show if rectal exams have value,” says Dr. Freedland. “Many people, myself included, think they do have value. It’s part of the evaluation that we use even if it’s not officially in our guidelines.”
The DRE may cause momentary discomfort, but it can also detect prostate cancer for those patients with normal PSA levels. “We use the exam because we think it should work and be helpful, even if it hasn’t been studied,” Dr. Freedland adds. “Most people are screened with PSA and DRE.”
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Positron Emission Tomography Scan
A PET scan is similar to a bone scan, in that a slightly radioactive substance is injected into the blood, which can then be detected with a special camera. But PET scans use different tracers that collect mainly in cancer cells. The most common tracer for standard PET scans is FDG, which is a type of sugar. Unfortunately, this type of PET scan isnt very useful in finding prostate cancer cells in the body.
However, newer tracers, such as fluciclovine F18, sodium fluoride F18, and choline C11, have been found to be better at detecting prostate cancer cells.
Other newer tracers, such as Ga 68 PSMA-11 and 18F-DCFPyl , attach to prostate-specific membrane antigen , a protein that is often found in large amounts on prostate cancer cells. Tests using these types of tracers are sometimes referred to as PSMA PET scans.
These newer types of PET scans are most often used if its not clear if prostate cancer has spread. For example, one of these tests might be done if the results of a bone scan arent clear, or if a man has a rising PSA level after initial treatment but its not clear where the cancer is in the body.
The pictures from a PET scan arent as detailed as MRI or CT scan images, but they can often show areas of cancer anywhere in the body. Some machines can do a PET scan and either an MRI or a CT scan at the same time, which can give more detail about areas that show up on the PET scan.
What Would You Say To Men Who Dont Want To Get A Prostate Check
A rectal exam is recommended but optional. We recommend both, but if theyll just let you do a blood test, thats better than not doing anything at all.
If concern about the rectal exam is the only reason youre not getting screened, talk to your doctor about it. We can discuss the risks and benefits. None of the evaluation tests are mandatory, but the reason we do that is that it improves our ability to detect cancer. So, if thats why youre not being evaluated, we can talk and decide if we can do other tests.
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What Is The Chance Of A Diagnosis Of Prostate Cancer
Around 17,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed each year in Australia. It affects mostly men in older age groups and is rare in men under 50 years of age.
The chance of developing prostate cancer is significantly higher in men who have a close relative with prostate cancer the risks are higher if the relative was diagnosed before the age of 60.
If you have a family history of prostate cancer, talk to your doctor.
Genetic Testing For Some Men With Prostate Cancer
Some doctors now recommend that some men with prostate cancer be tested to look for certain inherited gene changes. This includes men in whom a family cancer syndrome is suspected, as well as men with prostate cancer that has certain high-risk features or that has spread to other parts of the body. Talk to your doctor about the possible pros, cons, and limitations of such testing.
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What Is Prostate Cancer Screening
The prostate is a gland at the base of the male bladder which wraps itself around the beginning of the urethra . Though small, it can cause big problems for mens well-being. Prostate cancer is the fourth leading cause of death in Australian men, after heart attacks, lung cancer and stroke.
The hope with cancer screening is that, by picking up cancer early, we may forestall death and avoid suffering. But for prostate cancer, our screening tests have significant limitations.