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The Loop

Have You Had a Prostate Exam?

By Jim Colbert Illustrations by Lou Beach
September 08, 2009

EDITOR'S NOTE: *Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of death among American men, and September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, we asked Champions Tour player Jim Colbert, 68, who had prostate-cancer surgery 12 years ago and is now cancer-free, to explain what it's like to get screened. Colbert works with The Depend Campaign to End Prostate Cancer (dependpca.com). *

A lot of guys don't want to talk about it, but it's important to know what to expect when you get a prostate exam. All men age 40 and older should get checked. Back in 1997, I was about to receive the Champions Tour Player of the Year Award when I bumped into Arnold Palmer.

He had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he said to me, "Boy, you better look out." I was 55 at the time and hadn't given a thought to prostate cancer. But the docs ran some tests and, sure enough, I had it.

So what can you expect? Well, first they take some blood for something called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. PSA is a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland. The magic number seems to be 4.0. If you're above that, you're at a high risk. Then comes the glove-and-finger exam. They don't go that far in, and it doesn't hurt. No big deal.If the gland feels enlarged, or the PSA is high, they'll do an ultrasound. Yup, they go up your rear for that, too. But the probe doesn't hurt. They grease you up pretty good. The result is called a Gleason score, with a range of 2 to 10. Lower is better. I was a 6 when they did mine.

Finally, if all the warning signs are there, they'll do a biopsy. This is the tough part. The device is inserted and takes samples from the gland. It feels like being stuck with a needle several times. There's no anesthetic for it. It's the only way to tell for sure. They had my results the next day.