The most common cancer in men, after skin cancer, is cancer of the prostate. According to the American Cancer Society, there are over 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year. As is true in all cancers, the key to recovery is early detection.
A full 97 percent of prostate cancers affect men over fifty, so age is considered the biggest risk factor. Men of African or Caribbean descent are at greater risk, as are people with a family history of prostate cancer.
In its early stages, prostate cancer is asymptomatic. When the disease is advanced, 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
The most common method of screening for prostate cancer is a digital rectal exam (DRE), in which a doctor or nurse inserts a lubricated, gloved finger inside the rectm to assess whether there are lumps on the prostate gland. There is also a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This blood test measures the level of PSA, a substance produced by the prostate gland. A high PSA reading does not necessarily indicate the presence of prostate cancer, as it may also indicate infection or inflammation. If your PSA is elevated, however, your doctor may order a biopsy to study tissue and cells in the prostate.
Treatment options vary based on the state of the disease and the age of the patient. In older men whose tumors are less aggressive, doctors often recommend careful observation, in which you simply wait and monitor the tumor. Many tumors found in older men are less aggressive and tend to grow slowly. They are less likely to metastasize, so they do not present the same danger as some other types may.
While there are new “nerve sparing” treatments that are often effective, many standard treatments for this disease can adversely affect men’s quality of life. Side effects can include erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence. For advanced cases of the disease or more aggressive tumors, recommended treatment may include surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy. If treatment is recommended for you or someone you love, do your research to determine the best options.
The good news is prostate cancer, when diagnosed early, has a 5-year survival rate of almost 100 percent. The ten and fifteen year survival rates are 98 percent and 94 percent, respectively. Fortunately, 93 percent of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in the early stages.
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. Clinical treatments are also important, both to patients and to the research community.