Prostate Cancer: What every man needs to know

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By SEAN CAVANAUGH, MD, CTCA-Atlanta

According to survey data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men are half as likely as women to visit a doctor over a two-year period and more than three times as likely to skip seeing a physician for five-plus years. Moreover, men are more than twice as likely to say they’ve never had contact with a doctor or health professional as an adult.

Factoring male reluctance to seek medical care with a decrease in cancer screenings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially crucial to understand risks for developing prostate cancer and how to speak with your doctor about screening options.

According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, one in eight American men will get prostate cancer at some point. However, African American men are more likely to be diagnosed than any other group. Additional disparities include:

  • African American men are 76 percent more likely to be afflicted than white men.
  • African American men are twice as likely to die as a result of prostate cancer than men of other ethnicities.
  • African American men are more likely than other groups to develop prostate cancer at age 40 than – a rarity among other ethnicities.

Although the reason for these disparities has not been identified, it is widely believed a combination of genetics, lifestyles, nutritional habits and quality and frequency of medical care all play a role.

Despite differences in risk and diagnosis, it’s important to remember prostate cancer is survivable. Thanks to advanced screen methods, the five-year survival rate in the United States for men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer is greater than 99%. The gold standard for screening is a simple test called a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test. It is routinely performed during an annual physical exam whereby a doctor assesses the prostate for enlargement or abnormalities and checks the blood. (PSA is a protein secreted only by the prostate and is easily measured in the blood of all men.)

If the level of PSA falls outside a specific range considered normal, additional testing may be required to determine if the individual has prostate cancer. The PSA test is effective in detecting cancer prior to the onset of symptoms and is where screenings can be true lifesavers.

Remember:

  • The best time to check for, and treat, prostate cancer is when there are no symptoms.
  • Prostate cancer is most beatable when detected early.
  • If you have symptoms that may include, but are not limited to: painful urination, blood in the urine, or persistent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips or upper thighs, it is absolutely essential to be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.

Knowing your family history of prostate cancer is a step in the right direction for managing your risk of developing the disease. Other potential risk factors include:

  • Poor diet and exercise: obesity increases risk of developing most cancers; try to minimize the amount of fat you consume in red meat and dairy products and increase intake of fruits and vegetables.
  • Cigarette and alcohol use: smoking also increases risk of developing many diseases and should be avoided altogether. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation, if at all.
  • Age: According to the American Cancer Society, 60% of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men who are 65 and older, with an average age of 66. High-risk individuals and African American men should get screened at age 40. All other men should start annual screening at 45.
  • Mental health and existing conditions: seeking medical treatment for stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and depression may save your life and can improve your survivorship with prostate cancer.

While it is not accurate or even prudent to pronounce a patient “cured” or “cancer free” after medical care, the combination of treatment options available today portends a good long-term prognosis for men with early-stage prostate cancer.

If you have any of the noted risk factors, talk to your doctor about screening options as soon as possible. The key to prostate cancer survival is early detection.

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Sean Cavanaugh MD

Sean Cavanaugh, MD, is chair of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) Department of Radiation Oncology, director of the CTCA Genitourinary Cancer Program, and a board-certified radiation oncologist at CTCA Atlanta.

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