In recent years, several high-profile entertainers and politicians have come forward to talk publicly about their battles with prostate cancer. Business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffet, California Governor Jerry Brown and actors Ben Stiller and Ryan O'Neal are just a few of the brave men who have shared their stories and dramatically helped raise awareness of the disease and the importance of early detection.
While the efforts of these men have helped, we still have a long way to go. Prostate cancer is a very serious disease that will affect one out of every nine men during his lifetime. It is the second deadliest cancer among American men. The good news, however, is that prostate cancer is treatable, especially if caught early. In fact, it has a 99 percent survival rate if detected before the cancer leaves the prostate.
That's why increasing awareness of prostate cancer is so important. September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, a time set aside to educate men about this disease, and encourage them to speak with their health care providers about the benefits and risks of screening. Prostate cancer screening can help find the disease in its early stages when treatment is most likely to be effective.
How common is prostate cancer?
It's tempting to think you or your loved ones won't be touched by this disease, but statistics tell a different story. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in America, after skin cancer. This year, 26,000 men will die from the disease and 180,000 new cases will be diagnosed, according to The American Cancer Society.
Three million men in the U.S. are living with prostate cancer today. Many of of them had their cancer detected early when it's highly treatable and has a nearly 100 percent survival rate. When cancer has spread beyond the prostate, the five-year survival rate drops to roughly 28 percent. That's why it's important for every man to talk to his doctor to see if screening for the disease would be beneficial.
Know the risks and rewards of screening
Two tests are used for prostate cancer screening. One is a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test that measures PSA levels in the blood. The other is a digital rectal exam that checks the prostate for lumps and abnormalities. There are risks and benefits associated with each of these tests and not all men should be screened. It's essential for men to have an in-depth discussion with their doctor before proceeding with screening to make sure they thoroughly understand the potential consequences.
While specific screening recommendations vary among leading organizations including the American Cancer Society, the American Urological Association, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, all agree screening should be done based on a discussion with your physician, and differ only on when to begin the test and the interval between screenings.
I encourage all men to be proactive about their prostate health and check with their doctor to see if screening is right for them. Many men are uncomfortable talking to their doctor about these tests, but this is something every man needs to do to protect his health.
Are you at risk for prostate cancer?
Virtually all men are at risk for this commonly occurring cancer, and risk increases with age. It's rare in men under 40, but risk rapidly rises after age 50. More than half of all cases occur in men older than 65.
The disease is more common in African-Americans who are twice as likely to die from it as white men. A man who has a father or brother with prostate cancer has twice the risk for the disease, and the risk is greater for those who have a brother with it as opposed to those whose father has the disease.
Prostate cancer symptoms
Unfortunately, early stage prostate cancer often doesn't exhibit any symptoms, and that's why screening is so important. With more advanced disease, patients may notice such things as:
- Weak urine stream
- Urge to urinate more often
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Erectile dysfunction
- Bone pain
It's important to note these symptoms don't necessarily indicate prostate cancer, as many other conditions can cause them.
For those men who are hesitant to talk to their doctor about screening, I urge their loved ones to give them a few encouraging words to help convince them to have this important discussion with their doctor. It could mean the difference between finding prostate cancer early when it's highly treatable or later when the outcome is poor.