Prostate cancer kills one man every 16 minutes.
Caregivers – talk to the men you care for!
What is Prostate Cancer?
The prostate is part of the male reproductive system, located below the bladder and just in front of the rectum. It is a walnut-size gland that manufactures fluid for semen. Prostate cancer is a disease that affects the cells in the prostate. If cells divide in an abnormal way, they can form a tumor. Cancerous prostate tumors can block the flow of urine and, left untreated, can spread to other parts of the body.
Prostate cancer is the most common invasive cancer in men. The American Cancer Society estimates that 191,930 men will be diagnosed this year with the disease in the US and about 33,330 will die. In Texas alone, about 12,110 will be diagnosed.
Prostate cancer is often curable if detected early! Since the majority of newly diagnosed prostate cancers are localized the tumor growth has not spread beyond the prostate gland. This is good news: early detection allows for more treatment options.
Who is at Risk?
One in every nine men will develop prostate cancer during his lifetime. Risk factors for prostate cancer include age, family history, and race. African American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer, and more likely to die of prostate cancer than men of other racial/ethnic groups. Men in high-risk groups (men whose fathers or brothers have been diagnosed with prostate cancer) have an increased chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Men exposed to Agent Orange and firefighters are at a higher risk as well.
Lifetime risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer is:
- 1 in 9 overall
- 1 in 6 for African Americans
- 1 in 4 for men with family history
The older you are, the greater risk of getting prostate cancer:
|0 – 49
|1 in 403
|50 – 59
|1 in 58
|60 – 69
|1 in 21
|1 in 12
|1 in 9
Testing is important since there are no symptoms for early stages of prostate cancer. Testing for prostate cancer identifies early stage disease when treatment may be more effective. The main testing tools for prostate cancer are the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and the digital rectal examination (DRE). The PSA test and DRE are not used to diagnose prostate cancer but can only suggest the need for further testing.
PSA Test – This is a simple blood test that measures the level of protein called prostate-specific antigen. PSA is produced by the prostate gland and normally occurs in the blood of all men. Elevated PSA levels can be a sign of prostate cancer or other problems with the prostate gland.
DRE – The digital rectal exam involves a physician inserting a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for abnormalities on the surface of the prostate. This test is simple, safe, and only takes about 10 seconds to complete, with minimal discomfort.
If the results of either of these tests is abnormal, further testing (such as a prostate biopsy) is often done to see if a man has cancer.
The National Cancer Center Network recommends men get a baseline PSA and DRE at age 40.
Concerns about prostate cancer screening
Neither the PSA test nor the DRE is 100% accurate. These tests can sometimes have abnormal results even when a man does not have cancer (known as a false-positive result), or normal results even when a man does have cancer (known as a false-negative result). Unclear test results can cause confusion and anxiety. False-positive results can lead some men to get prostate biopsies (with small risks of pain, infection, and bleeding) when they don’t have cancer. And false-negative results can give some men a false sense of security even though they might actually have cancer.
Another important issue is that even if screening detects prostate cancer, doctors sometimes can’t tell if the cancer is truly dangerous (and therefore needs to be treated). Finding and treating all prostate cancers early might seem to make sense, but some prostate cancers grow so slowly that they would never cause a man problems during his lifetime. There are many factors to consider including age, health, and family history. For example, if you’re young and develop prostate cancer, it may shorten your life if it’s not caught early. Screening men who are older or in poor health is less likely to help them live longer. This is because most prostate cancers are slow-growing, and men who are older or have major health problems are more likely to die from other causes before their prostate cancer grows enough to cause problems.
Treatment of a cancer that would never have caused any problems is known as overtreatment. The major downside with overtreatment is that if they weren’t needed, treatments like surgery and radiation can have urinary, bowel, and/or sexual side effects that can seriously affect a man’s quality of life.
Talk To A Doctor
Talk to a doctor if a man has:
- trouble urinating
- frequent urinating, especially at night
- weak or interrupted urine stream, pain, or burning when urinating
- painful ejaculation
- nagging pain in the back, hips, or pelvis.
Different kinds of doctors and other healthcare professionals manage prostate health. These healthcare professionals include:
- Family doctors and internists
- Urologists, who are experts in diseases of the male reproductive and urinary tract systems
- Urologic oncologists, who are experts in treating cancers of the male urinary and reproductive systems such as prostate cancer
- Radiation oncologists, who use radiation therapy to kill cancer cells
- Medical oncologists, who treat cancers with medications such as hormone treatments and chemotherapy
- Pathologists, who are doctors who find diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope
- Nurses, once disease is identified and treatment begins
View these professional as partners. Talking openly with healthcare providers can help the man and his family caregiver learn more about prostate changes and tests to consider.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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