A prostate cancer diagnosis is usually made in elderly men and rarely found in those younger than 40.
A question many men may never ask themselves is, “how is my health?” June is Men’s Health Month and an opportunity to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems as well as encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American men and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in America. The American Cancer Society estimated that more than 218,000 men in the United States were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010 and an estimated 32,050 American men will lose their lives to prostate cancer this year. Currently, approximately 2 million Americans suffer from this disease. One in six American men has a lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer starts in the prostate gland, a small, walnut-sized organ which is part of a man's reproductive system. Located around the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the bladder, prostate cancer is a disease in elderly men and rarely found in men younger than 40.
Are You at High Risk?
Recent studies have shown men with any of the following factors are at a higher risk for developing prostate cancer:
- Men with a family history of prostate cancer (father or brother)
- Men older than 60
- African-American men
Other men at higher risk include:
- Exposure to agent orange or cadmium
- Diet high in animal fat
- Farmers, painters, tire plant workers
- Men who abuse alcohol
Most medical organizations agree that men should begin testing for prostate cancer at age 50 in order to establish a baseline risk. If a man has one or more of the above risk factors, he should begin annual prostate cancer testing at age 40.
Know the Signs
Early stages of prostate cancer mostly do not cause any symptoms. Often, signs of the disease are first found by a doctor during a routine check-up. Screening tests include a digital rectal exam and a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test. Some patients can experience changes in their urinary or sexual function. These symptoms are also frequently seen in other diseases of the urinary tract. These symptoms include:
- Delayed start of urinary stream and difficulty holding back urine
- Weak urine stream with interruption of the flow and straining
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Dribbling or leakage of urine
- Blood in urine or semen
- Difficulties having an erection or painful ejaculation
- Bone pain, frequently in the lower back and pelvis (only when the cancer has spread)
If there is a high suspicion for prostate cancer, a biopsy of the prostate is the only test that can confirm the diagnosis. Tissue from the prostate is viewed underneath a microscope.
The reasons why your doctor may perform a prostate biopsy include:
- An abnormally high PSA blood test
- A digital rectal exam showing a hard or irregular surface or a hard nodule (lump)
Early Detection is Key
Treatment of prostate cancer depends on the stage of the disease. Your doctor has to find out if the cancer is only localized in the prostate or if it has spread to other organs. Additionally, your doctor will also consider your age, other health problems and your preferences. Treatment will be tailored for you based on this information. For very early stage prostate cancers “active surveillance” may be an option. This includes regular PSA blood tests, rectal exams and follow-up biopsies. In other cases of localized prostate cancer, surgery or radiation might be options to cure the disease. For advanced stages (when the cancer has spread) hormone therapy or chemotherapy may be used.
A cure is only possible for early stages of prostate cancer. Despite recent success in the development of new drugs for prostate cancer, advanced stages of the disease cannot be cured and are treated by easing symptoms. Therefore, early detection is one of the best tools in the fight against this disease. Men need to be proactive, schedule regular checkups and ask their doctor when screening is recommended.
Recent research on advanced prostate cancer treatment is finally bearing fruit. Researchers have established a variety of treatment strategies to target the prostate cancer cells themselves, supporting tissues such as blood vessels and the immune system. With both, the ongoing grant funding and the continuous support of our patients, even advanced prostate cancer will be a curable disease in the future.