Men: Discuss Prostate-Exam Results with a Urologist

Published online: Oct 06, 2021 Articles, East Idaho Health Jessica Pope
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Most men between 55 and 70 years old know they should have annual prostate screenings. They also understand physicians conduct those screenings through a blood test that measures a protein called Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA); but many men misunderstand what elevated PSA levels can mean.

“One myth I’d like to bust is that everybody with an elevated PSA level has prostate cancer,” said Dr. Duncan Harris, urologist and founder of East Falls Urology. “Other things can elevate the PSA that have nothing to do with cancer.”

Enlarged or inflamed prostates, urinary tract infections or ejaculation within 24 hours of the test may cause a rise in PSA levels. Also, the test produces a significant percentage of false positive results. That said, high levels of PSA often point toward prostate cancer and it’s the best prostate cancer screening test currently available.

“It’s important to understand that once a patient has an elevated PSA blood test, they need a discussion with a urologist about what to do next,” said Dr. Harris. “I always tell my patients that the good news is, if we detect an elevated PSA and they do have cancer, then most likely we’ve caught it at an early, treatable and curable stage. If they have another ailment, we can help with that too. [An elevated] PSA result is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s no need to be scared about information. Information is always a good thing.” 

Because prostate cancer doesn’t present visible signs or physical symptoms, it’s essential to detect the silent disease through screenings. 

“We need to understand what screening is – it’s looking for a disease when someone has no symptoms. Ideally, with prostate cancer screenings, we’ll catch it in an early stage when the cancer remains confined to the prostate,” Dr. Harris said. “Unfortunately, screenings get delayed or overlooked, and many times cancer is caught later than we’d like and the deadly disease can take its course.” 

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in men; yet when identified in early stages, the chance of cure remains high. 

Treatments for prostate cancer may vary, as physicians and patients determine the best personalized treatment plan, but may include active surveillance of the disease, surgical removal of the prostate gland and/or radiation. 

“I try to really inform my patients about their options. I see myself as being a part of their medical team. I’m not the boss, I’m the hired help. I teach, gather information and make recommendations, but I believe the treatment path should ultimately be the patient’s choice,” said Dr. Harris. 

For example, Dr. Harris initially diagnosed one of his patients with early prostate cancer when working at a clinic in California. The gentleman chose to begin with active surveillance, and Dr. Harris and the man became friends as Dr. Harris watched the cancer closely. Eventually the disease progressed to a point that called for further treatment. Dr. Harris surgically removed the prostate. A bit later, Dr. Harris moved to Idaho to open East Falls Urology. The patient valued Dr. Harris’ friendship and professional assistance so much that the gentleman decided to make a first-ever visit to Yellowstone and continue follow-up care in Idaho. Now, twice a year the man travels to Southeastern Idaho for continued monitoring and enjoyment of this beautiful area. 

“This friend and patient of mine brings up another myth to bust. The myth is: Everyone with a high PSA result or a prostate cancer diagnosis is rushed to surgery or radiation. That’s simply not true. Prostate cancer tends to be relatively slow growing, so some patients can just be observed. Talk with your urologist, as each person is unique and deserves individualized care,” said Dr. Harris.  

To make an appointment with Dr. Harris at East Falls Urology, call 208-535-4515 or visit eastfallsurology.com

Click here to read the October issue of Idaho Falls Magazine.

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