Less than a minute. That’s how long a prostate check takes – but it can save your life. It’s understandable to have some concerns about getting a prostate check, but the more you learn about the test, the clearer it is that it’s not only absolutely essential, but also really not that bad.
We asked Dr Luke Powles, associate clinical director at Bupa UK (opens in new tab), about the most common concerns that men might have about getting their prostate checked.
What exactly does a prostate check involve? Is it painful and how long does it take?
The first test for prostate cancer is a blood test called Prostate Specific Antigen or PSA. Your PSA can be high if you have prostate cancer, but it can also be higher than normal if your prostate is infected, enlarged or inflamed. It’s important to note that recent vigorous exercise, sexual activity, urinary infection or prostate examination can also raise your PSA levels, so make sure your GP is aware of anything that could affect the test.
Your doctor will also need to check your prostate through the wall of your rectum with their finger. There is nothing to be worried about. We understand that it’s an intimate check and it can feel a little strange but it’s quick – it takes less than a minute – and isn’t normally painful.
What is the doctor looking for?
A rectal exam can help identify the size of the prostate gland and any obvious irregularities on the surface of the prostate that may suggest cancer, even if the PSA is normal.
Why is it so important to get checked?
Early detection is the key to living a longer, healthier life. Getting checked regularly can ensure that if you need treatment, you get it as early as possible. In the UK 84% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survive for at least ten years (opens in new tab).
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Who should get checked?
Prostate screening is available to all men 50 and older. However, men who are at higher risk of prostate cancer, including those with a family history or have Afro-Caribbean heritage, and those with urinary symptoms – like reduced flow, difficulties starting and stopping, getting up more often in the night – should talk to their doctor.
What can you do to reduce your risk of prostate cancer?
While there are lots of scare stories and misconceptions out there about cancer, there are most definitely things you can be doing to reduce your risk.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, fibre, starchy foods, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. Some foods can be prostate-healthy such as brassicas (which includes cauliflower and broccoli) cooked tomatoes, green tea, mixed nuts and pomegranate juice. These foods produce antioxidants or specific chemicals that protect prostate tissue.
Exercise regularly. Aim to do 30 minutes of low-intensity exercise on five days of the week. Aerobic exercise is best such as swimming, jogging, cycling and brisk walking. Stop smoking and steer clear of passive smoke, and stick to recommended alcohol limits. For men, that means no more than three to four units in a day.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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