Taking charge of your prostate health / By Jill Case
Why should you care about your prostate unless you are having problems? Dr. H. Ballentine Carter says in his book The Whole Life Prostate Book that men should care because “virtually every man, as he ages, will have to deal with issues involving urination, pelvic pain, or sexual dysfunction either caused by, related to, or blamed on the prostrate.” He notes that sex usually gets men’s attention, and says, “even the slightest problem with the prostate can have some impact on sexual functions.”
Hopefully, this has earned your attention because the news and the outlook are very good for men who pay attention to their prostate health at every age. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer has one of the highest survival rates when detected early. In fact, the five-year survival rate is close to 100 percent when the cancer is caught in the earliest stages. Despite these facts, prostate cancer continues to be the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for men. Men can take charge of their health by learning about the risk factors and screening tests available to them.
Access Your Risk
The American Cancer Society lists the following risk factors, but this does not mean that you will get prostate cancer; they are just things to keep in mind and to discuss with your physician.
Primary Risk Factors:
- Age. Your risk of cancer goes up significantly after age 50 (men younger than 40 rarely get prostate cancer), and it goes up even more after age 65 (two out of three cases occur in men 65 or older).
- Race/ethnicity. African-American men are more at risk than Caucasian men, and they are twice as likely to die from the disease.
- Family history. If your father or brother has had prostate cancer, your risk is doubled (if your brother has had cancer, your risk is higher than it would be if your father had cancer). If more than one relative has had prostate cancer, especially when they were young, your risk factor is even higher.
Additional Risk Factors Still Being Studied:
- Diet. Some studies suggest eating a diet of red meat, high-fat dairy products, as well as few vegetables and fruits may contribute to prostate cancer.
- Obesity. It has been linked in most studies with a higher overall risk. Some studies indicate obese men may also have a higher risk of developing a more aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Lower Your Risk
Studies have not been conclusive on exactly what causes prostate cancer, so there is no clear way to prevent it. However, there are things you can do that may lower your risk of developing the disease, including:
- Eating a healthy diet that includes more fruit and vegetables while eating less fat and red meat.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Exercising regularly.
Get Screened for Early Detection
Who should be screened and when? This varies according to your risk factors. Here are guidelines from the American Cancer Society on when to discuss screening with your physician:
- For men with average risk, discussion should begin at age 50.
- For men at higher risk (including African-American men and men who have a father, brother or son who have been diagnosed before age 65), discussion should begin at age 45.
- For men at highest risk (including men who have more than one relative—brother, father or son— diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age), discussion should begin at age 40.
Currently, there are two types of screening being used: the PS A (prostate-specific antigen) blood test and the DRE (digital rectal exam). There have been problems with false positives with the PSA test, but according to Dr. Carter, “It is the best test we have for predicting the likelihood of prostate cancer on biopsy, as well as the future risk that it will be diagnosed two to three decades after the test.”
In addition, Dr. Carter notes, “PSA screening of men between the ages of 50 and 69 can reduce the rate of death from prostate cancer by as much as 20 percent to 40 percent, even without treating all men diagnosed with the disease.”
The DRE is often performed in combination with the PSA blood test. This test can sometimes detect cancers in men who have normal PSA levels, and it can be a useful diagnostic tool. The bottom line is this: Talk to your doctor. Discuss the risks and benefits of screenings. Your doctor will take in to account your age, risk factors and general health, and help you decide what the right course of action will be for you.
Know the Signs
When prostate cancer is in its early stages, you may not notice symptoms, thus, the importance of screening and early detection. However, later stage prostate cancer can cause symptoms. (Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other diseases.) If you notice any of the following, contact your doctor:
- Blood in your urine
- Pain in your hips, back (spine), chest or other areas
- Weakness or numbness in your legs and feet
- Loss of bladder and/ or bowel control
There are many treatment options, depending on the stage of your cancer. Many men find it helpful to seek out a second opinion as well. Doctors who treat prostate cancer include urologists, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists. Seek out professional guidance. There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet, so rely on guidance from physicians, and become informed.
Dr. Carter says the word “prostate” is derived from the Greek word for “guardian.” He says the prostate “is working all the time as a participant in urination and in helping to create a fulfilling sex life. While the prostate is your guardian, you also have to be the guardian of your prostate.” Take charge. After all, it’s your life.
For more information: The Whole Life Prostate Book: Everything That Every Man—at Every Age— Needs to Know About Maintaining Optimal Prostate Health, by H. Ballentine Carter, M.D., and Gerald Secor Couzens.
Dash for Dad 5K Run and 1-Mile Fun Walk
This race is part of the Great Prostate Cancer Challenge, bringing athletes, cancer survivors, physicians, caretakers, family members and friends together to raise money to fight prostate cancer. The race was started by Zero— The Project to End Prostate Cancer (zerocancer.org), and the organization is partnering with Urology Austin and other local and national sponsors to host this event.
Date: Oct. 27
Time: 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., race-day registration and packet pickup
Location: Camp Mabry Military Base, 2200 W. 35th St., just west of Loop 1.
For more information, visit greatprostatecancerchallenge.com/races/austin.