A prostate cancer diagnosis, like any cancer diagnosis, can feel scary and worrisome. It’s a feeling of fighting a battle to win back your health from an insidious disease that’s the second leading cause of cancer in American men.
Being told, “You have prostate cancer,” may feel like a gut punch. But when armed and ready to fight, you’ll be outfitted with a take-charge attitude vastly improving your outcome.
To win this unwanted attack on your health, there are three things you need most – understand prostate and prostate cancer; get regular checkups, and find a urologist you trust to guide you on this journey.
1. Understand the prostate and prostate cancer
Surprisingly, many men are not always well-versed in understanding their prostate, a part of the male reproductive system. Knowing basic facts such as it’s a walnut-shaped, muscular gland positioned below the bladder surrounding the urethra, situated in front of the rectum, helps. Also know that its main function is to secrete prostate fluid, a component of semen. And in order to propel seminal fluid into the urethra during ejaculation, depends on the muscles of the prostate gland.
Men should also know that the prostate can grow larger as a man ages. This is usually not considered cancerous and is common. By age 60, half of all men will have an enlarged prostate, a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH. By age 85, around 95% of men will have BPH. As men age, the prostate gland can begin to swell or grow. As it compresses the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the body, men will have noticeable symptoms affecting urination.
But, a growing prostate gland can also be a sign of prostate cancer. For the year 2021, The American Cancer Society estimates that almost 250,000 new cases of this disease will be diagnosed. The good news though, is when caught early, prostate cancer has a 98.9 percent survival rate.
2. Get regular prostate checkups
Just like women should receive regular mammograms for detecting breast cancer, men should be doing the same for assessing the health of their prostate. The best defense is to have a game plan of good offense when it comes to your prostate. Beginning at age 40, as a baseline and then depending on a man’s personal risk factors for prostate cancer, regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests and digital rectal exams are cancer screening tools urologists use to discover changes in the prostate gland. These tests are not perfect but are still considered the best ways to detect prostate cancer.
Review with your doctor the signs and symptoms you need to know possibly indicating prostate cancer. Also, discuss what you can do to lower your risk of developing this disease.
3. Find a urologist
If diagnosed with prostate cancer, a urologist will be your best physician guiding you through the treatment options suited for your situation. Much of the decisions needing to be made will be based upon the outcome of the rectal exam and PSA blood test. When abnormalities are found, a prostate biopsy may be necessary. A urologist will take tissue samples from the prostate which are then sent off to a pathologist screening for the size, shape, and pattern of growth of possible cancer cells. Depending on the findings, a Gleason score is given to determine the aggressiveness, prognosis, and what therapy is best.
Further imaging may be necessary if there are any discrepancies. The imaging tests might include a computed tomography (CT) scan determining if cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland, like the lymph nodes. Another imaging test possibly used could be magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used for assessing the extent (stage) of cancer and showing if the spread has infiltrated the seminal vesicles or nearby organs.
Treatment options are based on findings from various tests used to determine what stage the prostate cancer is found in. If a man’s prostate cancer is found early and has not spread beyond the prostate gland, active surveillance may be the option chosen. Prostate cancer can be slow-growing cancer; depending on a man’s age, overall health, and rate of growth of cancer, active surveillance also called ‘watch and wait’ may be the best option.
For more aggressive prostate cancers, working with a urologist can help men to determine which course of treatment will be most effective for them considering the expected rate of growth, staging, and other factors.
When men become their own health advocates by taking charge of their prostate health, this empowers them to have the best fighting chance to win the battle against this disease.