What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is the growth of malignant (cancerous) cells in the prostate gland. The prostate is a walnut sized gland located below the bladder. Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. Almost everyone knows a family member, neighbor, or friend who has been affected, because there are nearly 3.1 MILLION American men living with the disease. In fact, one out of every nine American men will have prostate cancer in his lifetime, and more than 191,000 American men will be told they have prostate cancer this year.
Recently Al Roker was diagnosed with prostate cancer telling the Today Show audience that he wanted to publicly reveal his diagnosis on-camera to highlight these statistics.
Although those number are sobering, there is good news. It is treatable and often curable, if it is found early. The five-year survival rate of men with prostate cancer is nearly 100 percent. The 10-year survival rate is greater than 95 percent. This survival rate drops to ~30% if it is not found early enough.
How is prostate cancer found early?
Using a combination of physical examination and blood testing (PSA test), your doctor or Urologist can determine if additional testing or biopsy is needed. Prostate biopsy is usually done by a Urologist (Prostate, Kidney, and Bladder surgeon) in an office setting. It is very effective at ruling cancer in or out. MRI imaging is also sometimes used.
What does treatment for prostate cancer look like?
If cancer is identified, treatment options depend on several factors which include the aggressiveness of the cancer, the age and health of the patient, and ultimately the type of treatment the patient and physician feel is right. Many prostate cancers grow slowly and remain confined to the prostate gland. Localized cancer is sometimes just closely watched (active surveillance), if the risks of the treatment outweigh the risks of the cancer. While this does not cure or treat the cancer, it does help delay the risks of the treatments.
Other times, cutting edge, minimally invasive robotics are used to surgically remove the prostate. Radiation therapy is also a common treatment. Less commonly, ultrasound ablation or cryotherapy (freezing of part or all of the prostate) may be recommended.
If cancer is found to have metastasized outside the prostate, treatment then shifts to prolonging life as a cure is no longer possible. Luckily, even in this instance, the life expectancy is usually still around 10-15 years if treated aggressively with various types of medicines or chemotherapy.
Who is at risk for prostate cancer?
Some men are at higher risk for prostate cancer than others. These include men with a direct relative (father or brother) who has had prostate cancer. For reasons that are unclear, African American men are also more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Once treated however, survival is similar among all men. The age at which a patient is diagnosed often determines how aggressive the cancer is – the younger a patient is diagnosed with prostate cancer, the more aggressive it is likely to be. The average age of diagnosis is approximately 65. It can be detected however in patients even in their 40s. We are learning that some genes (such as BRCA) are also involved in prostate cancer, just like breast, ovarian, and lung cancers. These cases tend to be more aggressive and present earlier.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Symptoms of prostate cancer include weight loss, bone pain, and blood in the urine or stool. However, in many instances, no symptoms are present at all. That is because almost the vast majority of prostate cancer is detected using a blood test and physical examination BEFORE there are any symptoms.
Are there ways to prevent prostate cancer?
The best way to prevent prostate cancer is to know your risk factors and to get screened accordingly. Although there is no right answer, if you are at higher risk due to age, race, or family history it is recommended that you get a yearly physical exam and blood testing between the ages of 45-50. Often times, you may need to advocate for yourself during yearly physical exams to make sure this is done. It could be the difference between being able to cure the cancer or not!
Some men are hesitant to ask about prostate cancer screening because they feel embarrassed or unsure. Do not be one of them. Know your risk factors, get tested, and talk to your provider if you have any questions.
Make an appointment.
At WakeMed, we have several convenient locations where you can schedule an appointment with one of our excellent primary care physicians to discuss the risks and benefits of a prostate cancer screening. We also have a dedicated and exceptional team of urologists who specialize in cutting edge treatments for prostate cancer and its side effects.