Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: Starting the Conversation about Your Prostate Health
If you are a father, grandfather, brother, uncle, or son, you are likely aware of prostate cancer. In fact, prostate cancer is one of the leading cancers in men, trailing only behind skin cancer.
“Prostate cancer is very common. About one in every eight men will develop this condition,” said Jeffrey A. Katz, a physician assistant at Family Care Center of Taylorsville.
This month, in observance of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, take the time to learn more about prostate cancer and start the conversation with your provider about early screening.
What is prostate cancer?
“The prostate is the gland in men that sits below the bladder and goes around the urethra, which is the tube that brings urine from the bladder to the outside,” said Katz.
Prostate cancer occurs when the normal cells in the prostate become abnormal and grow out of control. This type of cancer only affects men, as the prostate gland is only found in males.
Though prostate cancer is common, it is one of the most curable types of cancer. The 5-year survival rate of American men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer is greater than 99%, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF).
However, it’s important to note that prostate cancer comes in many forms, some growing slowly and others more rapidly. In severe, more aggressive cases, it can be life-threatening.
According to the PCF, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among U.S. men, with 94 men dying from it every day. This makes it imperative that the cancer is caught early before spreading to other areas of your body.
Who is at risk of prostate cancer?
One of the most significant risk factors for prostate cancer is age. The older you are, the greater your chance of getting prostate cancer.
“Prostate cancer is very uncommon in men less than 40 years old. Six in ten cases of prostate cancer are typically diagnosed after age 65,” said Katz.
Your risk is also higher if you are African American or your father or brother had prostate cancer. However, most cases occur when there is no family history at all.
According to Katz, some research suggests that men who eat a lot of dairy foods are at a slightly higher risk for prostate cancer, though the reason for this is unknown.
Are there any symptoms?
“Typically, there are no early symptoms of prostate cancer. As the prostate cancer becomes more advanced, sometimes, men will notice a weak or interrupted flow of urine, or frequent urination, especially at night,” said Katz.
Katz also explains that these symptoms of prostate cancer are similar to those of other prostate problems, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia. This is the normal enlargement of the prostate, which occurs in all men as they age.
Chronic back pain may also be a symptom of advanced prostate cancer that has spread to the spine.
If you do have these symptoms, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider, who may decide to screen you for prostate cancer.
What is prostate cancer screening?
“Currently, a PSA test is the most common prostate cancer screening test. It is a simple blood test,” said Katz.
PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen, a substance made by the prostate. High levels of PSA may indicate a problem, such as an infection, inflammation, or prostate cancer.
According to Katz, routine screening for prostate cancer occurs yearly at age 50.
However, if you are at high risk, you should consider yearly screenings at age 45. Those at high risk include African American men and men who have a first-degree relative who developed prostate cancer early in life.
“There is also discussion that men over the age of 40 who have more than one relative who developed prostate cancer early in life should consider yearly PSA screening at that age,” said Katz.
As always, make sure to speak to your provider about prostate cancer screening and if it is right for you.
If your PSA levels come back elevated, your provider may recommend a biopsy. This involves removing and examining a sample of prostate tissue. A prostate biopsy is the only definitive way to diagnose prostate cancer.
Is prostate cancer treatable?
Fortunately, prostate cancer is typically very treatable. Your options for treatment are usually based upon how aggressive the prostate tumor is. Treatments may include surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, or chemotherapy.
“For some very low-aggressive tumors, active surveillance is sometimes indicated. What this means is that no treatment is initially done, and the cancer is ‘watched’ to make sure that it does not grow larger or become more aggressive,” said Katz.
If you and your provider decide that active surveillance is appropriate for you, you will be asked to return to the office for regular checkups so your provider can monitor the cancer closely. If you start showing symptoms or the cancer starts to grow more rapidly, you can start treatment.
Together, you and your provider can decide what treatment option makes the most sense for you.
Katz practices at Family Care Center of Taylorsville and is accepting new patients. If you would like to schedule your next appointment with Jeffrey A. Katz, PA-C, DFAAPA, please call the office at 828-632-9736.