Is it possible to learn how to check for prostate cancer at home? Certainly, screening for prostate cancer is a part of routine checkups, especially for men 50 and over or men with various risk factors, such as having a family history of prostate cancer, as the Mayo Clinic advises. However, only one screening test offers an at-home option.
There are a variety of tests to check for prostate cancer. They include digital rectal exams, PSA testing, IsoPSA™ tests, and biopsies.
Digital Rectal Exams
In a digital rectal exam (DRE), a doctor or another healthcare professional inserts their gloved and lubricated finger into a patient’s rectum, where they can easily examine the prostate gland for tumors. Since it is an internal exam, it’s best done in a doctor’s office or another healthcare setting to avoid contamination. Since it takes a trained physician to detect the types of abnormalities that could indicate prostate cancer, a DRE is not a test that patients could administer accurately to themselves.
One of the standard tests for prostate malignancy is a blood test to check for high levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a substance that the prostate gland produces naturally. However, a higher-than-normal level is a possible indicator of prostate issues, including cancer. While PSA testing usually happens in a doctor’s office, there are at-home options, including:
However, elevated levels of PSA do not necessarily indicate cancer. High levels can also indicate inflammation, infection, or an enlarged prostate gland. If the at-home test shows high levels of PSA, it does merit a visit to the doctor to check for what might be causing it.
Eric Klein, MD, a urologist and oncologist who practices at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends PSA testing once yearly for men 50-69 years old. As he advises, men with annual PSA screenings are 27% less likely to die from prostate cancer than those who skip them.
Klein advises patients whose PSA tests show elevated levels of the substance to obtain an IsoPSA™ test. A relatively new blood test, IsoPSA checks for “broader, structural changes in a patient’s PSA levels as a result of disease pathogenesis, rather than assessing the concentration of the [PSA] protein.” Since it’s cancer-specific, it’s a more accurate test than the PSA, which often flags non-malignant conditions.
Unfortunately, the IsoPSA is not available for at-home testing. However, it’s an important next step if a patient’s PSA levels are high. As Klein points out, the test has saved 55% percent of his patients from needing prostate biopsies. That alone makes it a necessary step in the diagnostic process since with any surgery – even exploratory biopsies – comes a risk of complications.
Since a biopsy involves surgery, it is not possible to do one outside of a healthcare setting. For that reason, doctors usually perform prostate biopsies in hospitals or freestanding surgery centers. In a prostate biopsy, the doctor will use a needle to remove some of the patient’s prostate gland tissue and check it for cellular abnormalities that could indicate cancer.
There are three main approaches to prostate biopsies. The most common is the transrectal method, in which the doctor accesses the prostate gland through the patient’s rectum. Less common approaches include the perineal method, which inserts a needle into the skin that lies between the patient’s rectum and scrotum, and the transurethral method, in which the doctor will advance a flexible tube called a cystoscope into the patient’s urethra, enabling them to visualize the prostate internally.
Usually, doctors use ultrasound to visualize the patient’s prostate gland and guide the needle. Anesthesia can include intrarectal lidocaine gel, pudendal block, or periprostatic block. Some procedures might require sedation or even general anesthesia, depending on the patient and the procedure.
Complications can include bruising, bleeding, and pain at the site, infection, and difficulty urinating. Patients should see their healthcare provider if their symptoms give rise to a fever, pelvic pain, a burning sensation while urinating, or an inability to urinate.
What Happens After a Prostate Biopsy?
If the biopsy indicates that a patient has prostate cancer, the doctor will usually check the cells for aggressiveness using Gleason scoring (assigning a score from 2 to 10 to the cancer, where the higher the score, the more aggressive the tumor) or genomic testing.
There are a variety of therapies doctors can use to treat prostate cancer. In fact, low-grade prostate cancer, says Klein, often can be managed without treatment, provided the doctor keeps an eye on any developments.
For more serious cases, there are several options available. Small tumors, Klein says, often respond well to focal therapy, a treatment in which doctors remove only part of the prostate gland. Since this therapy keeps part of the prostate gland intact, it is a popular choice among doctors and patients alike. Radiation therapy can include external beam radiation or brachytherapy, inserting radioactive “seeds” into the prostate gland.
For extremely aggressive cancers, doctors might recommend a total prostatectomy, the removal of the entire prostate gland. Hormone therapies, chemotherapy, and testosterone blockers also can slow prostate cancer’s progress.
Prostate cancers have a 100% five-year survival rate and a 90% ten-year survival rate, says Klein. The important thing, he adds, is to catch them early before they metastasize into other parts of the body.
Are There Any Holistic Treatments for Prostate Cancer?
It’s well worth exploring alternative treatment approaches to prostate cancer. Whether as a standalone treatment or a complementary therapy to other interventions, there are several holistic options patients can look at.
Insulin potentiation therapy, a low-dose chemotherapy approach, has also demonstrated results in treating prostate tumors. Since cancerous cells have higher numbers of insulin receptors than normal cells, delivering traditional anticancer medications together with insulin allows those medications to get through the cells’ protective barrier to destroy them from within.
Research also shows that prostate cancer responds well to hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a treatment in which patients receive oxygen at increased pressures, delivering more oxygen into their bloodstream. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy leverages cancer’s affinity for low-oxygen environments to decrease prostate cancer’s rate of growth and increase its sensitivity to cancer-fighting drugs.
If you’ve recently received a diagnosis of prostate cancer, the Brio-Medical Cancer Clinic can help you find a treatment that works for you. Get in touch with our office to schedule your free consultation today.