Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 5 May 2021
Cancer screening tests are designed to detect cancer early, before it causes symptoms and when it is most manageable to treat. Screening tests that are effective include those that:
- Find cancer early
- Reduce the likelihood of cancer mortality in anyone who is routinely screened.
- Have seen a greater number of possible advantages than drawbacks.
Cancer screening is so important because there are no symptoms of cancer in the early stages, and it is exactly when the cancer is most treatable. It may not be the most comfortable experience in the world to go to the doctor for an annual checkup, but don’t put off getting a screening test for the most common cancers that affect men. If you spot them early, they’re easier to treat.
Some screening exams check for polyps in your colon since this is where the disease normally begins. The aim is to locate them before they develop into cancer or when they are still in the early stages of development.
Colonoscopy: Your doctor inserts a flexible tube containing a small camera into your rectum to view the interior of your colon and rectum. You can’t eat or drink anything for a day or two before the exam, and you’ll need to take a laxative to prepare the bowels.
It takes about 30 minutes to complete the operation. You’ll be given drugs to make you sleepy or drowsy, as well as numbing medication. Polyps and possibly tissue fragments will normally be removed from your colon by your doctor. They’ll then give them to a lab to be tested for cancer signs.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy: It’s similar to a colonoscopy, but the doctor can only see about a third of your colon. You don’t need to prepare as much and can normally stay awake. It takes about 20 minutes to complete this exam.
Fecal tests: Since cancers in the colon and rectum may bleed, both the guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) and the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) check for tiny quantities of blood in your feces. You’ll use a special kit at home to collect a small number of your feces, which you’ll then send to a lab. You will need to abstain from certain foods and medications ahead of time.
Stool DNA test: A stool DNA test is similar to a fecal test, but the lab will also look for signs of polyps or cancer cells with gene changes.
Men may begin screening at the age of 50, but if you’re at a high risk for colorectal cancer, you might need to begin sooner. Ask your doctor if you really need to if you’re older.
A group of medical experts, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), recommends that you have a:
- Colonoscopy every ten years or
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every ten years, plus FIT once a year (the American College of Physicians recommends flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, plus FOBT or FIT once every three years), or
- FOBT is held every year.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men. Different health organisations have their own set of guidelines. Your doctor will advise you on which tests you should have and how often you should have them.
PSA (prostate specific antigen): It searches for a protein released by prostate cells in your blood. PSA levels increase as a result of cancer. Other conditions, such as an enlarged prostate, may also increase certain amounts, which is a concern.
Digital rectal exam (DRE): You may either lean forward when standing or lie on your side on an exam table during this test. Then, with a lubricated, gloved finger, the doctor examines your rectum for any lumps in your prostate. You should request a chaperone during this test.
The PSA test is not recommended by the USPSTF, and some experts advise against using the DRE for screening. The American Cancer Society recommends that you discuss your options with your doctor.
Starting at age 50, most men can get a PSA test and probably a DRE. You might need to start testing sooner if you’re African-American, have or suspect you have a defective BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, or if other men (especially younger than 65) in your family have had prostate cancer.
This is the most lethal cancer in men. Smoking is a major factor, and if you’ve had a long history of tobacco use, you should have a screening test.
LDCT (low-dose computed tomography): An LDCT (low-dose computed tomography) scan is used to screen for lung cancer. X-rays are used to create images of the lungs in this examination.
It’s a fairly simple test. As the table goes through the detector, you lie on your back and lift your arms above your head. As it’s completing, you’ll have to hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds.
You can get an LDCT scan at least once a year if you:
- Are between the ages of 50 and 80, according to the USPSTF, and
- Have smoked at least one pack of cigarettes per day for the past 20 years (or an equivalent number, such as two packs per day for the past ten years), and
- You either smoke now or have stopped in the last 15 years.
Your doctor will inform you when and if it is safe to discontinue annual scans.
The USPSTF makes no suggestion on skin cancer screenings. However, the American Cancer Society notes that routine doctor visits are an excellent way to detect skin cancers early, when they are easiest to treat. If you’ve ever had the disease or have family members who have, ask your doctor how often you can have a skin check.
Your doctor will examine your skin for any suspicious moles or other growths that may be cancerous. Additionally, you should check your skin for changes at least once a month.
Referenced on 4/5/2021
- American Cancer Society: “American Cancer Society recommendations for prostate cancer early detection," “Cancer Facts for Men," “Frequently Asked Questions About Colonoscopy and Sigmoidoscopy," “Key Statistics for Prostate Cancer," “Skin exams."
- American Lung Association: “Lung Cancer Fact Sheet."
- National Cancer Institute: “Prostate Cancer Screening," “Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps."