The worry of getting cancer is something that crosses everyone’s mind at some stage. Women tend to be better at talking about symptoms and seeking early help, but what about men? Unfortunately, many tend to stick their head in the sand. As we find out from the team at International Medical Clinic, the key to successful treatment and in the case of prostate cancer, a cure, is catching the disease as early as possible. Regular screening is the best way to do this. Here, in time for Movember, is everything you and your man need to know!
What actually is the prostate?
The prostate is a gland in all men, about the size of a walnut, found below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It produces a fluid that is found in semen. Unfortunately, the prostate gland can cause problems, both benign and cancerous. As men grow older, the prostate often grows larger, which can lead to restricted urinary flow. This condition is called Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (or BPH). BPH can be problematic, but it does not lead to cancer. Some men will also develop prostatitis, or a bacterial infection of the prostate gland. This also is not related to prostate cancer.
How common is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US, apart from skin cancer. It’s typically found in older men, but can also develop in younger men. In many, the cancer is relatively slow growing, but in others it can be quite aggressive. Risk factors for developing prostate cancer include being over 50, being black, having a relative with prostate cancer, and having a diet high in fat or alcohol.
How can you detect prostate cancer?
Ideally we would be able to find all prostate cancers while they are still at an early stage and can be treated effectively. Currently, the most common screening tests are the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and the digital rectal examination (DRE). Both tests are often done at the same doctor visit, usually during an annual medical exam.
What is PSA?
PSA is a substance that is created by the prostate gland. In men with prostate cancer, the PSA level may be higher than normal. Other conditions may also raise this level, including infection or enlargement of the prostate. A PSA level may be determined from a routine blood draw. Screening by PSA measurement can be done yearly. Typically, an elevated level is further evaluated by performing a biopsy of the prostate.
The digital rectal examination (DRE) is performed by your physician in the office. He or she is able to feel the prostate gland for lumps or nodules. Abnormalities require further testing, usually a biopsy.
Is screening a sure-fire way of detecting prostate cancer?
Admittedly, these screening tests are not perfect and have limitations. There is the possibility for false positive tests (which may result in unnecessary follow up testing or surgery), or false negative tests (which may result in missed cancers). Also, sometimes screening will detect a cancer that otherwise would be so slow growing that it never would have caused any problems. Furthermore, screening tests have not definitively been shown to reduce mortality from prostate cancer.
What are the current recommendations?
Most medical authorities suggest offering prostate cancer screening (by PSA and DRE) as an option for those over age 50, or earlier if you are in a high risk group, but only after the above limitations have been discussed and are understood. Screening can be done yearly up to age 75, or later if you are otherwise in good health.
Speak with your physician if you are interested in screening for prostate cancer.
Check out more in our Health section.
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