Prostate cancer is one of the leading types of cancer in men. In fact, according to The Prostate Cancer Foundation, more than 3 million US men are living with prostate cancer, and in the US, 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his life-time. And for those of African descent, that number is 1 in 7. It is more likely for a man to develop prostate cancer than it is for him to develop colon, kidney, melanoma or stomach cancers combined.
The good news is that this is a cancer that can be treated – especially if it’s detected in the early stages of the disease. Here’s what to know about prostate cancer, and the steps you need to take to ensure that you’re doing all you can to prevent it (or catch it early).
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a small walnut-shaped gland that is located just below the bladder at the site where the urethra connects. It’s main functions are supporting sperm nourishment and transport, aiding in urine control, and secreting PSA (prostate specific antigen), which is a protein that helps sperm to retain its liquid state.
As stated above, prostate cancer is very common in men. It typically grows slowly, and if caught early enough is fairly easy to treat. However some types of prostate cancer are more aggressive and may spread quickly, especially if not treated.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Many of the symptoms of prostate cancer are similar to other conditions, so it’s important to get a proper exam to rule out prostate cancer. Men who experience the following symptoms should talk to their doctor.
Trouble urinating, including starting and stopping urination, or a weak urine stream.
Blood in the urine or semen
Painful urination, or ejaculation
Frequent urination, or needing to use the bathroom multiple times at night
Pain when sitting
Most people do not experience symptoms of prostate cancer in the early stages of the disease. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about options for getting screened for prostate cancer. There has been some debate about PSA screenings and when to receive them. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons in order to make your decision. (Click here to see what the American Cancer Society recommends.)
How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
Most doctors talk with men about prostate health throughout their life, but especially after they turn 50. Prostate screenings have pros and cons, and you should talk to your doctor about whether or not you’re a good candidate for screening.
If you do present with any of the common prostate cancer symptoms, your doctor will likely recommend conducting a blood test to assess your PSA levels. He or she may also conduct a urine test, and a physical exam to examine the prostate for any abnormalities.
After these tests, if your doctor thinks it might be prostate cancer, he or she may conduct additional tests, such as an ultrasound, or a biopsy.
What are the risk factors for developing prostate cancer?
Doctors are uncertain about what causes prostate cancer, but the cancer occurs when the cells in your prostate become abnormal, and grow and divide at a very rapid rate. This can form a mass of abnormal cells, or a tumor, which can invade nearby tumors, or even spread to different parts of the body.
There are certain things that may increase your risk of prostate cancer. As you age, your risk of getting prostate cancer increases. Race is also a factor, as black men are more likely to get prostate cancer than other races. And, if you have a family member that has had prostate cancer, your risk goes up. Finally, if you are obese, your cancer may be more advanced and harder to treat.
Can prostate cancer be prevented?
As always, prevention is always the best medicine, and living an active, healthy lifestyle can put you in a better position as it relates to prostate cancer. Eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and exercising every day can help provide good vitamins and minerals and help you to maintain a healthy weight.
Your doctor may also talk to you about taking drugs that can help reduce your risk, if you happen to be a high risk for developing prostate cancer.
What treatment options exist for prostate cancer?
Fortunately, treatment for prostate cancer has been shown to be very effective. And, if caught early, doctors can prevent it from spreading.
The type of treatment you choose will depend on what stage you are at once the prostate cancer has been detected.
Many men and their physicians choose to take a “wait and see” approach (also known as “watchful waiting”), since prostate cancer is typically slow growing and some of the treatment options do have side effects that may out weight the benefit of the treatment.
If you do decide to treat the prostate cancer, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove the prostate (a prostatectomy), or radiation therapy.
For advanced stages of prostate cancer that has metastasized to other parts of the body, your doctor may prescribe chemotherapy or hormone therapy to treat the cancer.
Talk to your doctor about steps to maintain a healthy prostate, and learn more about your options for prostate screening.