Prostate cancer is an incredibly common form of cancer in men that affects the prostate – a walnut-sized gland that produces seminal fluid. In fact, an estimated 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with the condition during his lifetime. However, just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a concern.
Each year, nearly 175,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and each year, nearly 32,000 men die from it. Understanding prostate cancer, knowing your individual risks, and screening for it regularly can help detect it at its earliest, most manageable stages.
Here are 5 things you should know about prostate cancer:
It’s Not Just an Old Man’s Disease
While your risk of developing this form of cancer increases after the age of 50, with around 60% of cases occurring in men over the age of 65 – age is not the only factor that contributes to whether or not you’ll get the disease. Other factors that significantly impact your risk include:
- Race and Ethnicity – Although the reasons are unclear, African-Americans are at greater risk of developing prostate cancer. This group is also twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than other races or ethnicities.
- Family History – Having a close relative (father or brother) who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer more than doubles one’s risk for the disease.
Treatment Isn’t Always the Best Option
There are actually 29 different known types of prostate cancer – each with its own aggressiveness and treatment options. But, for the most part, it’s one of the slowest-growing forms of cancer. That’s why treatment isn’t always a recommended course of action.
Some instances in which your doctor may suggest “active surveillance”, rather than treatment include:
- It’s detected at an early stage and growing slowly.
- Age or other illnesses may complicate treatment.
An Enlarged Prostate Doesn’t Mean You Have Prostate Cancer
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), otherwise known as an enlarged prostate, is a non-cancerous overgrowth of prostate tissue that occurs due to a lifetime of testosterone production. It’s very common among men over the age of 40. In fact, 20% of men in their fifties, 60% of men in their sixties, and 70% of men by age 70 will be diagnosed with an enlarged prostate.
Apart from the threat of obstructing your urinary tract, BPH isn’t fatal nor is it a risk factor for prostate cancer. It’s most commonly treated with either alpha blockers, which relax the muscles of the urinary sphincter, or 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, which shrink the prostate itself. The 5-alpha reductase inhibitors can even reduce your prostate cancer risk over time by around 25%.
Your PSA Score Can Be Affected by Things Other Than Prostate Cancer
The most common way to screen for prostate cancer is by measuring Prostate Specific Androgen (PSA) levels, a protein produced by the prostate gland. While elevated PSA level is most commonly caused by the presence of prostate cancer, it can also be caused by other conditions like enlarged prostate, prostatitis (an infection of the gland), or certain procedures and medications.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, obesity can cause lower PSA levels due to more blood volume even when cancer is present. A PSA read – just like all screenings – is the best, least invasive way to determine the likelihood of prostate cancer before symptoms present.
A Diagnosis Isn’t a Death Sentence
While prostate cancer is still the second-leading cause of cancer death in men, there are more than 2.9 million prostate cancer survivors in the U.S. alone. In fact, because it’s such a slow-growing cancer, you’re more likely to die with prostate cancer than of prostate cancer.
Early detection and proper management of the disease can save or prolong your life. According to the CDC, “For every 1,000 men between the ages of 55 and 69 years old who are screened, about 1 death will be prevented and 3 men will be prevented from getting prostate cancer that spreads to other places in the body.”
If you’re a male over the age of 50, talk to your primary care provider about screening for prostate cancer. Together, you can weigh the benefits and risks of prostate cancer screening against factors such as your family history, whether you’re African-American, or if you have conditions that may be complicated by the screening or treatment process.