While the accuracy of current prostate tests leaves something to be desired, experts agree that early detection is imperative to fight the disease. One in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and it is one of the most common cancers. The age when most men begin annual checkups is 50. However, certain biological and lifestyle factors make some more at risk than others and necessitate screenings at an earlier age. A recent survey in the journal Cancer reports that one in five men in their 40s has undergone a screening for prostate cancer.

Currently, PSA testing combined with a digital rectal exam (DRE) is the most commonly used procedure for screening prostate cancer. During the procedure, the doctor draws the patient’s blood and sends it to a laboratory where it is tested for unusually high levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The more PSA in the blood, the more likely the patient has prostate cancer. The purpose of the DRE is to physically check the patient’s prostate for any abnormalities.

While the PSA test and the DRE are used most often, they are not always accurate. According to experts at Johns Hopkins University, every year, 1.6 million men have biopsies done on their prostate because of high PSA levels, and 80 percent of cases reveal no signs of cancer. At the same time, low PSA levels cause 15 percent of prostate cancer cases to go undetected.

In spite of this, the American Cancer Society remains steadfast in advocating early detection through PSA tests and DREs as the first line of defense. While some men believe that they can simply wait to see if cancer develops, catching it early enough can prevent serious complications down the road. If you are in the early stages of prostate cancer, you may not show recognizable symptoms. It is best to begin routine PSA screenings and DREs at the age of 50. You should consider getting tested at 40 if you exhibit any of the following attributes:

African American. For reasons that are still unclear, African-American men are more than twice as likely to develop prostate cancer as Caucasians.

Family History. You have a one in three chance of getting prostate cancer if an immediate family member has been previously diagnosed.

Obesity. Weight can play an important role in predicting the severity of prostate cancer. A healthy diet is imperative to not only managing your weight but reducing your risk of prostate cancer and other diseases.

High Testosterone Levels. Testosterone therapy patients increase their risk for prostate cancer as testosterone causes the prostate gland to grow.

While prostate cancer research expands and new screening methods are developed, it is still imperative for men to get PSA tests and DREs as a baseline. If you are at risk, you should contact your physician and schedule a check-up. The sooner you know, the sooner you can arm yourself with information that will help you live a long and healthy life.

The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America’s magazine, LIFELINES, published more on this topic in its article, Prostate Cancer: A Threat to Men as They Age. Also, our catalogue features a pamphlet on What Laborers Should Know about Prostate Cancer as well as the manual, Prostate Cancer Awareness. Both are available online.

[Jennifer E. Jones]