The month of September represents a few different cancer awareness campaigns: childhood cancer, gynecological cancers, leukemia/lymphomas, prostate cancer, and thyroid cancer. Every single one of these deserves attention and will hopefully get to spread their message, but this week we’re focusing on prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, aside from skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be over 200,000 new cases in 2015 alone. As with all cancers, the key is early detection and early diagnosis.
Who’s at risk for prostate cancer?
The vast majority (97%) of prostate cancers occur in men over age 50, making age the biggest risk factor. For reasons that are unclear, men of African or Caribbean descent have higher incidence rates for prostate cancer. Genetics does play a role in prostate cancer so people with a family history of prostate cancer can have an elevated risk for it.
What are the signs of prostate cancer?
In the early stages, there are usually no symptoms and no signs that anything is wrong.
For advanced stages of prostate cancer, some of the symptoms may include:
- Weak or interrupted urine flow
- Inability or difficulty urinating
- Need to urinate frequently
- Blood in the urine
- Pain or burning sensation with urination
How do you screen for prostate cancer?
There are a few tests to screen for prostate cancer. The most common one is known as a digital rectal exam (DRE). This is when a doctor or nurse will insert a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for lumps or anything unusual on the prostate.
Another option is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This a blood test used to measure the amount of PSA, a substance produced mainly by the prostate, in the body. High levels of PSA can be a sign for prostate cancer, but can also be a sign of infection or inflammation. Since the PSA test can’t pinpoint prostate cancer for sure, a biopsy might be done at this point to examine the tissue and cells in the prostate.
What are the treatment options?
As with most diseases, treatment options can depend on many factors like disease state and age. For older patients with less aggressive tumors, the best treatment option is careful observation, or simply just waiting and watching. It might sound scary but these milder tumors grow slowly and aren’t as likely to metastasize, or spread, so keeping a careful eye on it could be the best course of action.
Prostate cancer treatments can often affect quality of life by causing side effects like erectile or urinary problems so unnecessary treatment should be avoided. For more advanced diseases or more aggressive tumors, treatment options include surgery, radiation treatment, and/or hormonal therapy.
The good news is that most (93%) of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in the early stage where the 5-year survival rate is nearly 100%. Along the same lines, the 10- and 15-year survival rates are 98% and 94%, respectively.
Ongoing research efforts
Cancer biologists and oncologists continue the search for ways to detect cancer earlier, treat it better and ultimately to find a cure for cancer. To do that, they look at biological markers on the surface of cancer cells and find new ways to target them. However, their work in the lab can only go so far.
As you read this there are currently clinical trials going on around the country for all cancer types (prostate, skin, breast, etc.) and for all areas like prevention, screening, and treatment. Clinical trials rely on volunteers who meet the eligibility criteria to gather results. Sometimes the new treatment might not do anything, but sometimes it just might help. This type of information is what the researchers, need to know in order to help more people in the future.
For an online search of ongoing clinical trials, visit: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/clinical-trials/search
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