Screening for Prostate Cancer; a difficult but life-saving decision
Give the gift of a healthy family this Father’s Day and learn your risk factors and screening options for prostate cancer.
While pap smears for cervical cancer and mammograms for breast cancer are a routine part of gynecological and physical exams for women, digital rectal examinations (DREs) and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests for prostate cancer in men have not been met with this same level of acceptance. Although there is a 100 percent survival rate for patients whose cancer is detected early, these simple screening methods are not a part of most yearly physical exams for men over 50. Encourage your father, husband or brother to take the initiative and ask his doctor about prostate screening options.
According to the National Cancer Institute, just over a decade ago 70 percent of men in the United States diagnosed with prostate cancer were diagnosed with advanced stages of the disease. Now, because of the more frequent use of PSAs and DREs, 70 percent are diagnosed at earlier stages when the cancer is still confined to the prostate. This change has led to the first drop in 30 years of deaths from prostate cancer.
Although prostate cancer has historically been viewed as an “old man’s disease” that causes no real problems or deaths, 25 percent of diagnosed prostate cancers occur in men under age 65. Left untreated, it causes a variety of symptoms as it progresses, including: incontinence, impotence, urinary flow problems, urinary retention, kidney failure, bowel obstruction, chronic edema and metastasis to other tissue and organs.
Your risk of developing prostate cancer is determined by a variety of factors including your age, race, family history of prostate cancer and diet. Men over the age of 55, African American men and men with a diet high in animal fat and low in fruits and vegetables are at an increased risk for prostate cancer and should discuss their concerns and screening options with a doctor. Although a few studies previously suggested that a vasectomy might increase a man’s risk for prostate cancer, most studies do not support this finding.
The standard screening procedure for prostate cancer is a digital rectal examination (DRE). This procedure allows the physician to check for changes in the firmness or texture of the prostate gland through inserting a gloved finger into the rectum. This method is useful in detecting lumps or hard areas in the prostate, but can miss small cancers toward the front of the prostate or deep within it.
Another screening method, the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, uses a relatively simple blood test to measure the amount of PSA in the blood. Elevated levels of this substance, produced naturally by cells in the prostate gland, can indicate an enlarged prostate or the presence of cancer. But higher than average PSA levels do not always mean there is a problem. PSA levels are affected by both age and race; they naturally increase with age and are found to be higher in African American men and lower in Japanese men as compared to Caucasian men.
The American Cancer Society recommends that all men over 50 receive annual PSAs and DREs, and that those at a high risk of developing prostate cancer, such as African American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer, begin screening at age 45. If you would like to discuss your risk of prostate cancer with a physician, call to find a physician near you.
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