What is a prostate test, how to test it & what does it show?

The prostate is a small gland that is situated in the pelvis and is only present in males. Its main role is to produce a white fluid, which then creates semen when it is mixed with the sperm made by the testicles. A prostate test can be done in a number of different ways and is used to help diagnose prostate cancer, which is the most common cancer affecting men in the UK. It normally affects men aged over 50, and the risk is increased if you are of black ethnic origin or have a close relative (brother or father) who has prostate cancer.

This page highlights what the most common prostate tests are, how they are performed, and what the results may show.

What is a prostate test?

The most common types of prostate tests are:

  • Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test: This consists of a blood test, which measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA can be produced by both healthy and cancerous cells in the prostate, however, heightened levels can be an early warning sign of prostate cancer or another prostate condition such as prostatitis. This test is much less invasive than a rectal exam, and therefore constitute a convenient first step in prostate condition diagnosis. A rectal exam may still be needed if your PSA level is found to be higher than normal.
  • Digital Rectal Exam (DRE): This test is undertaken by examining the inside of the rectum. The practitioner will feel for any abnormalities with one gloved, lubricated finger. The test isn’t painful but can be a little uncomfortable.

Men over 50 can ask to receive these tests routinely to minimise the risk of developing aggressive cancer. A prostate test may also be recommended if an individual is experiencing any potential symptoms of prostate cancer, or has a family history of prostate cancers.

What does a prostate test show?

Abnormal results from a PSA or DRE test could indicate that there is a problem with your prostate. An abnormal result for a DRE test would consist of abnormalities in the texture, shape or size of the gland. What is considered ‘normal’ for PSA results can vary, however as a general guideline the recommended normal levels are as follow:

Age Recommended ranges
Under 45  Under 2.5 ng/ml
45+  Under 3 ng/ml

If you have an abnormal result, your doctor may order further tests such as an MRI, ultrasound or biopsy to confirm whether or not it is cancer. It is important to note that high PSA levels are not always a sign of prostate cancer, and can indicate another problem such as an enlarged prostate or prostatitis.

Where do you feel prostate pain?

A man may experience pain due to prostate cancer or inflammation, which is most commonly felt in the following areas:

  • lower back
  • hips
  • upper thighs
  • rectal area
  • pelvis

Health problems affecting the prostate may also cause painful urination and ejaculation.

How often should a man have a prostate exam? 

There is no national screening programme for prostate exams, so tests must be individually arranged. Most men over 50 may choose to have a test every few years after their first test, and more frequently if they are at an increased risk for prostate cancer.

Can you check your prostate yourself?

It is not recommended that you perform a DRE prostate exam yourself as it needs to be done by a trained medical professional. However, you can check your PSA levels at home with a single PSA home test kit. All you need to do is order your kit, take your own sample, send it back in our pre-addressed return envelope, and wait to receive your results online within 8 days.

Alternatively, you can book a health check with one of our Certified Healthcare professionals at one of over 2,000 mobile clinics nationwide. Our Male Cancer Risk Package includes a PSA test, in addition to a wide array of health markers for a detailed view of your health. These include key readings that play an essential role in maintaining men’s general health, as well as ascertain your risk for other types of cancers such as bowel and stomach cancer.