At What Age Should You Start Getting Prostate Cancer Screenings?

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer. Approximately one out of eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime and one in 41 will die from it. In 2022 alone, the American Cancer Society recorded nearly 270,000 new cases of prostate cancer. Of those, almost 35,000 were fatal (via American Cancer Society).

The silver lining is that comparable to most cancers, the survival rate of prostate cancer is high. While individual cases can vary, many doctors believe that the earlier prostate cancer is caught, the more likely it is that the patient can make a full recovery. In fact, statistics show that in 80 to 85% of prostate cancers detected in stages 1, 2, or 3, most of the men will be disease-free within five years (via Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Given the chances of developing prostate cancer, as well as the potential of successful treatment if caught early, it's important that men get regular screenings (via American Cancer Society). However, most men don't consider getting screened for prostate cancer until it is too late — so when is the right age for men to be taking prostate cancer screening seriously? The answers can vary, and there are factors to consider.

When to talk to your doctor about screenings

According to the American Cancer Society, men should begin to have conversations with their doctor about prostate cancer screenings starting at age 50 if they have an average risk of prostate cancer and expect to live at least 10 more years. If they are at a higher risk, screenings should begin at age 45. Those in the highest risk category have had more than one first-degree relative with prostate cancer, such as both a father and brother or multiple siblings. This makes age 40 the ideal time to begin screening.

While there is no specific screening for prostate cancer, there are two tests commonly used to screen for prostate cancer. The first is a blood test known as a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. PSA is a protein made by the prostate, and elevated levels in the blood can be an indication of cancer. However, other factors can also affect the PSA level, such as a prostate infection or certain medications, like cholesterol-lowering statins and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

The second screening a doctor will generally perform is a digital rectal examination (DRE). During a DRE, a doctor will insert a lubricated finger into the patient's rectum to feel for any abnormalities. Because a doctor can only feel the back wall of the prostate via a DRE, it is best to perform this test in conjunction with a PSA test (via the Hillman Cancer Center).

How often should men be screened?

Experts say that most men should be getting regular prostate cancer screenings between the ages of 55 to 69, as this is the time when men are most likely to get cancer. This is also when the benefits of treatment will outweigh the risks of side effects. Men should have a conversation with their doctors to decide how often to be screened, but on average, every two to three years may be sufficient (via Johns Hopkins Medicine).

In 2018, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that African-American men receive regular screenings. This is because Black men are 50% more likely to develop prostate cancer, and twice as likely to die from it (via Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). They also recommended against screenings for men 70 years of age or older. This is because the benefits of screenings do not outweigh the risks, according to their findings.

If you are a male who falls into the recommended age categories for prostate screenings, or if you have any of the risk factors associated with prostate cancer, it's recommended that you consult with your doctor about prostate screenings as soon as possible.