There’s no better time than now to revisit your knowledge about prostate health and testing. In recent years, we’ve seen major changes in how prostate cancer is diagnosed and managed. Testing is now much less intrusive than it once was and management of prostate cancer can be just as straightforward.
If you have been putting off the conversation with your GP, we’ll help you get started with 5 tips for talking to your GP about prostate health, from the E.J. Whitten Prostate Cancer Research Centre at Epworth.
Read on to ensure you have the latest information about checking for prostate cancer.
1. Remember, there is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about
With prostate cancer being the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men, your GP has talked about this condition with many others before you. They will be able to answer any questions you may have about testing for prostate cancer, and can support you through the testing process.
An estimated 24,217 males in Australia received a diagnosis of prostate cancer last year (in 2022)1.
Even if you usually steer clear of ‘below the belt’ topics, this is an area well worth raising with your GP to keep on top of your general and urinary health.
2. Consider your family history and have it ready
Do you have family members who received a diagnosis of prostate cancer – and how old were they at diagnosis? This is important information your GP is likely to ask you about.
They may be looking for a pattern on one side of the family, if you have members diagnosed young, or diagnosed with other types of cancer (particularly breast and ovarian).
Having a strong family history of prostate cancer lowers the age threshold for prostate cancer testing. We explain this in this in the next point.
3. Your GP will share their recommendations but ultimately, you lead the choice of whether to start testing
The first test to screen or investigate prostate cancer is a blood test called the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. This blood test doesn’t diagnose or completely rule out prostate cancer, but it is an important part of the diagnostic process.
You may have also heard of a digital rectal examination (sometimes called a prostate exam). This is no longer a standard test with your GP to screen for prostate cancer with no symptoms.
The Australian Guidelines for PSA Testing (2016) are currently being redeveloped. The recommendations for who should have PSA testing may change in the new version.
The advice in the 2016 guidelines is for men to learn and discuss the benefits and harms of PSA testing with their doctor, before they decide whether or not to be tested. And at what age should this conversation happen? The guidelines recommend the age ranges below for men who decide to start regular testing:
- Age 50 for men at average risk
- Age 45 for men with a first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer
- Age 40 for men with a father and two or more brothers diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Perhaps a simpler way to remember this is for testing to start at the age of 50, or 10 years younger than when your father or brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
For more information, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia has published a Should I have a PSA test resource.
4. Make the most of notes
It’s a good idea to jot down your reason for heading to the GP, as well as any questions you have. Any method works – whether you’re a pen to paper person or use a notes app on your phone. You can also use the Question Builder tool from healthdirect, made in partnership with the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare.
This will help you to remember everything you meant to ask your GP, and also means you can take notes to help you recall what your GP said in the appointment.
5.Don't put off testing because you don't have any symptoms
Symptoms of prostate cancer are more common when the cancer has spread from the prostate. If you are experiencing symptoms, such as urinary issues, raise them with your GP as early as possible.
Now you have five new strategies to help you feel confident and ready to raise this important health issue – or any others – with your GP.
1. Cancer summary data visualisation, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
15 June 2023