By John Colen, M.D., Urology, Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Memorial Villages
Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the United States. But on a positive note, 96 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are still alive five years later.
In Texas in 2020, prostate cancer was number one among all new cancer cases in men and number two for cancer deaths, slightly behind lung cancer.
Prostate cancer is rare in men under 40 years of age, but the chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer rises rapidly for men 50 years and older. While it can be deadly, prostate cancer can often be detected in time for effective treatment.
With September designated as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, now is an ideal time for men as well as transgender women and nonbinary individuals assigned male at birth to adopt a preventive mindset focused on what to look for and what to know about prostate cancer.
First, know the symptoms
The prostate is a small male organ just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. As men get older, the gland itself tends to enlarge, causing the urethra to narrow and decrease urine flow, otherwise known as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). BPH isn’t the same as prostate cancer. With prostate cancer, abnormal cells form and grow in the prostate gland.
Not everyone with prostate cancer has symptoms. Also, when symptoms occur, they’re not always signs of cancer and may resemble the symptoms associated with other health concerns.
Symptoms that may be red flags of prostate cancer include:
- Blood in the urine or in semen
- Pain and burning during urination
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Difficulty emptying the bladder
- Persistent back, hip, or pelvis pain
- Difficulty starting urination; weak or interrupted flow
- Painful ejaculation
Next, take action
If you or your friends or relatives have any of these symptoms, it’s important to visit a doctor right away, get a diagnosis, and determine a course of action. Again, there are a variety of benign conditions that have similar symptoms.
For men without symptoms, there are many possible benefits of screening for prostate cancer, including lowering the chance of death in some men. Cancer screening is the practice of looking for cancer before symptoms are detected. The goal of screening is to find cancers that may spread if not treated, and to catch them early. The two most common prostate cancer screening tests are:
- Prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, a blood test that measures the level of PSA, a substance formed in the prostate.
- Digital rectal examination (DRE), a procedure where a healthcare provider examines the interior of the rectum for prostate abnormalities.
A test can be lifesaving. However, some preventive care is not without risk. Complications may arise with over-diagnosis and over-treatment.
For the sake of your health and your loved ones, be vigilant and partner with your providers in prostate cancer awareness. Always get checked if you develop symptoms. Those without symptoms should discuss whether prostate cancer screening is right for them. In either case, if cancer is found, gather the facts to help you make careful decisions about treatment options that are right for you.