Getting a Prostate Ultrasound for Prostate Cancer

A prostate ultrasound is done to measure the size of your prostate and to look for abnormalities within the prostate gland. The ultrasound can be also be used to help perform a biopsy of the prostate.

Medical doctor gives a patient an ultrasound during a medical examination
Theo Heimann / Getty Images

Prostate cancer usually grows over time, staying within the prostate gland at first, where it may not cause serious harm. While some types of prostate cancer grow slowly and may need minimal or no treatment, other types are aggressive and can spread quickly. The earlier you catch your prostate cancer, the better your chance of successful treatment.

If your healthcare provider suspects you might have prostate cancer they will conduct a number of tests which may include a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, a digital exam of your prostate, and or imaging in the form of an ultrasound or MRI. If your blood work reveals a high PSA or your prostate feels abnormal on digital rectal exam then the ultrasound will be done at the time of biopsy to help with the diagnosis.

Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Advanced prostate cancer can cause signs and symptoms including:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in the semen
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction

Getting a Prostate Ultrasound

Ultrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to create a picture of the prostate. Ultrasounds are used early in the diagnostic process to determine whether your prostate is enlarged or has an abnormal or asymmetrical shape. If your prostate is enlarged without any other characteristics of cancer, you may just have benign prostate hyperplasia. As you age, your prostate increases in size. An ultrasound can help your healthcare provider determine if your prostate size increase is normal and age-related or a sign of prostate cancer.

Ultrasound is also used very frequently during a prostate biopsy to guide the healthcare provider to biopsy exactly where needed. In order to produce an image of the prostate, a thin ultrasound probe is inserted a short distance into the rectum. This probe emits high-frequency sound waves and detects their return. These sound waves can then be detected and measured as they reflect off of various structures inside the body.

When sound waves echo off of an object, they change slightly. The ultrasound machine can interpret these very tiny changes in the character of the returning sound wave to make determinations about the object (such as the prostate) that it has hit. Different types of structures reflect or “echo” sound waves differently. These differences can be detected and an image produced that shows where one structure stops and another starts. This allows for a detailed view of the area near the ultrasound probe.

Measurements can be made about the size and shape of the object, how far from the probe it is, and what its makeup is. For instance, ultrasound can determine whether an object is solid, full of liquid, or a little of both.

As the ultrasound is being performed, the image that is produced is in real-time. This means your healthcare provider can take a biopsy or do other procedures while an ultrasound image is being produced.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Leslie SW, Soon-Sutton TL, Sajjad H. Prostate Cancer. [Updated 2019 Oct 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-.

  3. Lopes PM, Sepúlveda L, Ramos R, Sousa P. The role of transrectal ultrasound in the diagnosis of prostate cancer: new contributionsRadiol Bras. 2015;48(1):7–11. doi:10.1590/0100-3984.2013.0010

  4. Mitterberger M, Horninger W, Aigner F. Ultrasound of the prostateCancer Imaging. 2010;10(1):40–48. Published 2010 Mar 3. doi:10.1102/1470-7330.2010.0004

By Matthew Schmitz, MD
Matthew Schmitz, MD, is a professional radiologist who has worked extensively with prostate cancer patients and their families.