Understanding Prostate Cancer
September 5, 2023
Prostate cancer is a condition often heard about, but perhaps seldom fully understood. In recognition of National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, we asked Jason Call, MD, Radiation Oncologist at Memorial Cancer Center, to answer some of the most frequently asked questions concerning this common form of cancer.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a gland that is only found in men, located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It is an important reproductive tool because it produces some of the fluid (semen) that protects and nourishes sperm, and it surrounds the urethra – the tube that carries urine and semen out of the body. It’s about the size of a walnut but tends to increase in size as men age.
What is prostate cancer?
With the exception of skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer found in American men. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, one out of every eight men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. Most men with the condition are 65 and older and do not die from it, although it is still the second leading cause of cancer death among U.S. men. The good news is that most prostate cancers are highly treatable when detected early.
Am I at risk for prostate cancer?
While any man can develop prostate cancer, your chances increase as you grow older: 60% of cases are diagnosed in patients over age 65. Other risk factors are genetic. African American men and men with a history of prostate cancer in their family are at increased risk for developing the disease.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Symptoms can vary from person to person, and some men with prostate cancer will not present with any symptoms at all. Some signs to be on the lookout for include:
- Difficulty with urination, including trouble starting or holding back urination, a weak or interrupted uninterrupted urine flow, pain or burning during urination, difficulty emptying your bladder fully, and frequent urination, especially at night
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Painful ejaculation
- Pain in the back, hips or pelvis that does not go away
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss them. It’s important to note that these symptoms are not exclusive to prostate cancer and could be caused by another condition.
Should I be screened for prostate cancer?
Before making a decision to get screened for prostate cancer, you should discuss with your primary care provider whether it’s right for you. You and your doctor should take into consideration if you have a history of prostate cancer in your family or existing medical conditions, and carefully weigh the pros and cons of screening based on these and other specific risk factors.
What does a prostate screening look like?
Two tests are commonly used. A Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test measures the presence in your blood of a certain substance made by your prostate. A Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) is when your provider inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to feel if the prostate is enlarged or irregularly shaped. In either case, abnormal exam results won’t necessarily mean you have prostate cancer. Instead, your doctor may request to repeat the test after an interval of time or schedule another test such as an MRI or biopsy, to determine if cancer is present.
Can I help prevent prostate cancer?
Many of the risk factors such age, family history and ethnicity are beyond your control. That said, you can strengthen your body’s ability to fight cancer by improving your health and immune system. Most of the healthy lifestyle habits your provider recommends – such as regular physical activity, a healthy diet, reducing stress and cutting down on drinking and smoking – can help reduce your cancer risk.
If you have any concerns regarding prostate cancer and its risks, symptoms and screening, have a discussion with your primary care provider.
Learn your risk for prostate cancer by completing a free prostate health risk assessment at mmclc.org/urology. Learn more about Memorial Cancer Center at mmclc.org/cancer.