September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: What you need to know
How often do you think about getting a routine screening from a doctor? Most likely, not often enough. For men, when it comes to prostate health, regular screenings should never be ignored. Unfortunately, far too many men aren’t getting the required prostate cancer screenings they need to detect problems early. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in men, as well as the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men, right behind lung cancer. Early detection is the best protection because prostate cancer can be successfully treated, but only if caught early. For men over age 50, a yearly prostate cancer screening can be the key to treating and beating it. To help men make informed decisions about their health, September is recognized as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout September, health advocates focus on increasing awareness about prostate cancer and advances in prostate cancer treatment, while also encouraging men to go for a prostate cancer screening every year.
An overview on prostate cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 248,530 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than 34,000 men will die of the disease in 2021. But, let’s start at the beginning. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located just below the bladder that is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate gland produces fluid that makes up some of semen. Prostate cancer begins when the cells in the prostate gland start growing at an uncontrollable rate. Luckily, the survival rate is extremely high because many prostate cancer treatment options are effective, especially when applied in the early stages of the disease. This is why all men over age 50 need to have an annual prostate cancer test, known as a PSA test. PSA stands for prostatic specific antigen, which is simply a protein that appears in the blood as a warning sign for prostate cancer.
Rare kinds of prostate cancer
While there are several kinds of prostate cancer, one is by far the most common, adenocarcinomas. In fact, more than 99 percent of all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas. Depending on where they develop in the prostate, adenocarcinomas either don’t spread any further or can spread very quickly. The other types of prostate cancer are extremely rare, yet include small cell carcinomas, transitional cell carcinomas, neuroendocrine tumors, and sarcomas.
Health screens to minimize your risk
Are you or a loved one at risk for prostate cancer? The only way to know is to be in the know about the many factors that increase the risk. The most common risk factor is your age, which is why annual prostate cancer screenings are recommended for men over age 50. There are other important factors that can raise your risk, some that you can’t control and others that you can. These factors include:
- Genetic factors
- Being of African American descent
- Family history of other cancers
- Being overweight
- High-fat diet
- Lack of enough exercise
- Excessive calcium intake
In the early stages of prostate cancer, there are usually no prostate cancer symptoms at all. Again, this is why having an annual prostate cancer screening is so important for men over age 50. Only a prostate cancer test can catch the warning signs that you can’t. However, like many other kinds of cancer, certain prostate cancer symptoms only start to appear when the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage. The most common prostate cancer symptoms include:
- Difficulty starting urination
- A frequent urge to urinate
- Painful urination and ejaculation
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Pain in the hips, back, or pelvis
- Unintentional weight loss
A curable cancer when caught early
If you have prostate cancer, the good news is that early detection is likely to lead to a cure. The bad news is that few men get the annual prostate cancer screenings that make it possible to catch it and cure it. Most prostate cancer cases are highly treatable and the survival rate is high, if diagnosed in the early stages. There are many effective options for prostate cancer treatment and in order to find the right treatment for you, your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor may consider the following options:
- Active surveillance and monitoring for signs of progression
- Watchful waiting where no tests are done, but symptoms are treated as they develop
- Surgery to remove the prostate and possibly some surrounding tissue
- Radiation to destroy the cancer cells
- Cryotherapy to freeze the prostate tissue, which can kill cancer cells
- Chemotherapy to kill rapidly growing cancer cells
- Hormone therapy to stop the body from producing the testosterone that causes the cancer to grow
- Immunotherapy that works with the body’s immune system to help it fight the disease
During Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, look for ways to support prostate cancer awareness, and give the men in your life the support they need to get annual prostate cancer screenings.