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The 2 tests for prostate cancer you should know about

There are 2 tests available to help detect prostate cancer early. If you and your doctor decide that the tests are right for you, have both of them (not just one or the other).

Digital rectal exam (DRE)

A DRE is a physical examination of the prostate through the rectum. The doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for lumps or anything else that seems unusual.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test

A PSA test is a blood test that measures prostate-specific antigen, a substance made by the prostate. The normal level of PSA changes as you get older. Higher levels of PSA can be caused by several prostate problems, not just cancer. Sometimes men with prostate cancer have PSA levels that are not higher than normal.

The PSA test cannot diagnose cancer. It can just indicate that there might be a problem with the prostate.

The cost of PSA testing may or may not be covered by your provincial health system or your insurance.

Both tests are better than one

Using these tests together is better than using either test alone. PSA testing together with a DRE may help find a dangerous cancer early when it is easier to treat.

Man looking at test results with his doctor.
Follow-up tests

If a problem is found, more tests will be done to find out whether you have prostate cancer or another health problem. Further tests can include:

  • follow-up PSA test
  • transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) – a test that uses sound waves to make a picture of the rectum and nearby organs, including the prostate
  • biopsy of the prostate – tissue samples of the prostate are looked at under a microscope
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