What to expect of your yearly prostate exam

The older a man gets, the more important it is for him to ensure good prostate health. There are plenty of things that you can do to take care of your prostate, including eating a diet healthy rich with fruits and vegetables and lean meats, getting regular exercise to keep your weight down, and limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol -- but one of the things you can't take care of by yourself is your yearly prostate exam.

If you're a man who's well into your 50s, you should already know what to expect from your annual prostate exam by experience. One of the main tenets of good prostate health dictates that by the time you're 50, you should already be getting a yearly exam -- sooner, if you've got certain risk factors like a history of prostate cancer or if you're African-American. But that doesn't mean that everyone does what they're supposed to do. If you've been dragging your feet about getting a long overdue prostate exam, here's what you can expect.

A digital rectal exam, carried out by your doctor. This involves your doctor putting a gloved, lubricated finger into your anus. It's done so that the doctor can feel around for any abnormalities or unusual areas of firmness on your prostate and your rectal wall, both of which can be evidence of early stages of cancer.

Although not the most pleasant experience in the world for patient or doctor, it's absolutely essential. Fortunately, it only lasts for a few seconds.

Blood work. It's also common for your doctor to carry out a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test, which looks for certain proteins in your blood that will read high if you're at risk for developing prostate cancer.

Yearly prostate exams are essential to the early detection of prostate cancer and can significantly extend your life, especially if the cancer is caught in time. Prostate cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, and the survival rate is very high even among older adults. The trick, however, is in early detection. Having a yearly prostate exam performed is the only truly effective way of nipping prostate cancer in the bud. Bearing all of this in mind, ask yourself if a few seconds of serious discomfort is a fair enough price to pay for the peace of mind that comes in knowing you're in the clear for yet another year.

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