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When To Start Prostate Exams: Advice for Members

By Heather Kerrigan | Jul 27, 2020

Many men don't know when to start prostate exams. Others may be reluctant to get tested in the first place. However, union leaders have an opportunity to encourage all male members to learn about the screening, whether it's right for them and when to get the test.

The Importance of the Prostate Exam

Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer among men. The American Cancer Society reports that 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with it. Although the condition has a high survival rate, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, it can spread to other parts of the body where it is harder to treat.

Who should get tested is debated in the medical community, but many doctors see the benefits in early detection.

Methods of Testing

Doctors identify possible prostate issues with either the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test or the digital exam. Over the past few years, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) has moved away from suggesting that men get a digital exam due to a lack of evidence backing it. The organization adds, though, that the harms of screening are small.

When to Get Tested

The USPTF and other medical experts recommend taking questions about prostate exams to the doctor. That's because answers about the benefits and risks of prostate exams and when to get tested are personal — they vary based on a person's age, family history and overall health.

The 2017 USPTF guidelines suggest that screening should start at:

  • Age 40 for anyone with a family history of prostate cancer
  • Age 45 for African Americans
  • Age 50 for everyone else

Follow-up tests may not be necessary depending on risk and the outcome of the first test. Because the disease develops slowly, tests usually stop after age 70.

Why Members Skip the Exam

Men skip prostate exams for many different reasons. Members may:

  • Be uncomfortable with the stigma surrounding the exam
  • Fear a cancer diagnosis
  • Believe the downsides of a false positive outweigh the benefits
  • Not believe they're at risk
  • Equate being asymptomatic to being cancer-free

Some members could simply be confused by the changing recommendations for testing. This is why medical professionals suggest consulting a doctor.

Encouraging Member Testing

Keeping members healthy extends to encouraging preventative screenings like prostate exams. Given the confusion surrounding the exam and the number of men who put it off, an education campaign can be a valuable tool to keep members informed on:

  • Data on the prevalence of prostate cancer
  • Problems associated with prostate cancer
  • The link between the prostate and sexual and urinary health
  • The benefits and risks of screening
  • Information on the PSA test and digital exam
  • What happens after screening
  • USPTF recommendations on when to start prostate exams
  • What their member health benefits cover

Even a simple list of questions or discussion points for members to take to the doctor may help facilitate what can be an uncomfortable discussion.

Ultimately, all men are at risk, and having critical conversations about preventative screenings is important for members' overall health. Screening is certainly a personal decision, but it is one best made with the advice of a medical professional who can help each member weigh the risks and benefits of screening and decide when to start prostate exams.

Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including SAGE Publications and The Kanter Journal. Heather is the author of the book, Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.