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Tests to check your prostate health

BMJ Group Medical Reference

The symptoms of an enlarged prostate can look like the symptoms of more serious conditions, such as prostate cancer. Your doctor may do some, or all, of these tests to find out for certain what's causing your symptoms. But for some of them you will need to see a specialist in hospital.

Medical history

Your doctor may ask you general questions about your health and past illnesses, operations, or treatments you've had (doctors call this your 'medical history'). Your doctor may then ask you about any problems you're having urinating, such as a weak stream of urine or having to get up at night to go to the toilet.

Your doctor will also ask you about any drugs you are taking, both prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. This is because some drugs (such as antidepressants) can affect the way your bladder works. Next, your doctor will probably do a physical examination of your prostate. This is called a digital rectal examination (DRE).

Digital rectal examination (DRE)

Because your prostate is inside your body, your doctor can't see it. But he or she can feel it by putting a gloved and lubricated finger into your back passage (rectum). Your doctor can feel if your prostate is enlarged, has lumps on it, or feels strange in some other way. Your doctor should be able to feel lumps that are bigger than half an inch (around 1.5 centimetres). However, smaller lumps are easy to miss.

This exam can be a little bit uncomfortable, and some men find it embarrassing. But it's not usually painful and only takes a few minutes. Your doctor may also feel the lower part of your stomach to see if he or she can feel your bladder. If your doctor can feel your bladder, it may not be emptying properly.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test

This test measures the amount of a substance called prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, in your blood. Your test results will show your level of PSA in a measurement of nanograms (ng) per millilitre (mL) of blood.

Your prostate makes PSA to keep your semen in a liquid state. (Semen is the name given to your sperm and the fluid they are carried in.) When cancer is present, more PSA may seep from your prostate into your blood. But you can also have a high level of PSA if you have an enlarged prostate.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about PSA testing. When it's used with a digital rectal examination, it can help detect prostate cancer. But it cannot tell you for certain if you have cancer. It can only tell you what your chances of having it are.

For example, most men have a PSA level under 4 nanograms per millilitre of blood. If your level is above 4, but less than 10, your chances of having prostate cancer are about 1 in 4. The higher your PSA level is, the greater your chances of having prostate cancer. If your level goes above 10, your chances of having prostate cancer are more than 1 in 2.

Last Updated: October 08, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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