Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer among men in the United States. Although it may be common, prostate cancer is often curable, especially if found in its earliest stages. But the problem is that most men don’t experience symptoms until the disease has progressed.

That’s why regular prostate cancer screenings are so important: They’re the best way to detect and catch the disease early-on.

But when should prostate cancer screenings start? How often should you be screened? And are there any reasons why you shouldn’t get screened for prostate cancer?

We answer all those questions and more.

How do screenings check for prostate cancer?

Today, the primary way to check for signs of prostate cancer in men is through a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test.

What is a prostate-specific antigen blood test?

This prostate cancer screening test measures the level of PSA in your blood.

PSA is a protein made by cells of the prostate gland. While PSA is mostly found in semen, a small amount is also found in blood. As the PSA level goes up, so does the chance of cancer.

But it’s important to know that a higher PSA level doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. Several factors such as age, prostate size, sexual activity and inflammation can affect PSA levels in men.

How is prostate cancer diagnosed?

If you’ve had a PSA test and the results show that your levels are high, you may need a prostate biopsy to figure out the cause.

A biopsy is when tissue samples are taken from your prostate gland. Those samples are then sent to a lab for testing to see if there are any cancerous cells.

But it’s important to know that there’s no one-size-fits-all process here. If there is a cancer concern, you’ll work with your doctor to determine what the best next steps for you are, which may include active surveillance for a time. Active surveillance involves close monitoring, but no treatment until testing shows a change in your condition.

What is the prostate cancer screening age?

PSA tests for prostate cancer often begin at age 45 for African American men, and 55 for most others.

If you have risk factors like a family history of cancer or obesity, your doctor may suggest getting screened earlier. They may also recommend that you see a urologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the male reproductive system.

That said, the decision to have a PSA test is an individual one. Your age, overall health, preferences and the potential risks and benefits of the test should all be considerations. The important thing is to at least talk to your doctor about PSA testing at your next preventive checkup.

How often are PSA tests done?

If you and your doctor decide to go forward with a screening test, the time between future screenings will depend on the results of the PSA blood test. Men with higher PSA levels should be screened annually. Those with lower levels may only need to be screened every other year.

What are the risks of prostate cancer screenings?

Because prostate cancer is often such a slow-growing disease, it’s possible that even if the cancer is found, it may not affect the length or quality of your life.

False positives can also be a concern. It’s possible to have high PSA levels even though there’s no cancer. So, for some patients, screening may lead to unclear results and ultimately unnecessary evaluation.

This is why it’s important to talk with your doctor about whether prostate cancer screenings are right for you. They’ll walk you through the risks and benefits of screening to help you make your decision.

Ready to talk about prostate cancer screenings? Schedule a preventive care visit.

Now is always the right time to take care of yourself. If you have questions or concerns about prostate cancer screenings, the perfect time to talk about them is during your next preventive care visit. So, if you’re due for a visit, get it scheduled today.