6 Ways to Test for Prostate Cancer and the Early Signs

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men.

Prostate cancer is very prominent among men, however, it can be easily monitored if you’re equipped with the right information. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for prostate cancer in the United States for 2022 are about 268,490 new cases and about 34,500 deaths a year. The average age of men at diagnosis is about 66, so if you’re in that age range, start monitoring yourself regularly for signs.

What Does Prostate Cancer Look Like, and What are the Early Signs?

Prostate cancer affects the prostate gland in males, right below the bladder. Prostate cancer can form when the prostate gland starts to grow out of control. Almost all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas, which are cancers developed from gland cells.

Other types of cancers that develop from the prostate include small cell carcinomas, neuroendocrine tumors (other than small cell carcinomas), transitional cell carcinomas, and sarcomas.

Early signs of prostate cancer include burning or pain during urination, difficulty urinating, or trouble starting and stopping while urinating, more frequent urges to urinate at night, loss of bladder control, blood in urine or semen, erectile dysfunction, or painful ejaculation.

How to Check for Prostate Cancer

Think you have the early signs? Get Checked. Here are some ways to get checked for prostate cancer:


Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test

A PSA is a protein made by cells in the prostate gland (both normal cells and cancer cells). This test is used mainly to screen for prostate cancer in men without symptoms, however, it’s also one of the first tests done in men who have symptoms that might be caused by prostate cancer.


Medical history and physical exam

Your first test after finding potential symptoms is a medical history and physical exam, so your doctor can check out your symptoms themselves. You will be asked about your symptom, such as any urinary or sexual problems, and how long you have had them. You might also be asked about possible risk factors, including your family history. This may include looking for inherited gene changes. This includes men in whom a family cancer syndrome (such as a BRCA gene mutation or Lynch syndrome) is suspected, as well as men with prostate cancer that has certain high-risk features or that has spread to other parts of the body.


Digital rectal exam

If your doctor finds something in the physical and medical history exam, they may recommend a digital rectal exam (DRE). In this test, the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to feel for any bumps or hard areas on the prostate that might be cancer. 


Prostate biopsy

If you find something that they want to test, you may do a prostate biopsy. A piece of flesh in the prostate with suspected cancer will be examined. During the biopsy, the doctor usually looks at the prostate with an imaging test such as transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) or MRI, or a ‘fusion’ of the two. If prostate cancer is found on a biopsy, it will be assigned a grade. The grade of the cancer is based on how abnormal it looks.



Imaging tests use x-rays, magnetic fields, sound waves or radioactive substances

These tests are used to create pictures of the inside of your body. Your doctor  may order one of these tests to look for cancer in the prostate or to look for the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.


Bone scan

Since prostate cancer most likely spreads to the bonest first when spreading to different parts of the body, a bone scan can help show if cancer has reached the bones. During this test, you’re injected with a small amount of low-level radioactive material, which settles in damaged areas of bone throughout the body. A special camera detects radioactivity and creates a picture of your skeleton.