Younger men rarely give a thought about prostate cancer. Their day-to-day busyness leaves them little time to give much thought of this “old man’s disease.”
Prostate cancer statistics
It is true that prostate cancer does occur primarily in older men – the average age of diagnosis is 66.
Yet, it can be found in younger men as 1 in 38 men between ages 40 and 59 will develop the disease. In fact, in the last 20 years, the number of men under the age of 50 diagnosed with prostate cancer has increased by 600%.
The concern of younger men receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer is twofold – they often have different long-term outcomes and difficulties including the effect on their ability to father children.
Men, in their mid-50s and younger, should know facts of prostate cancer. Understanding the disease, testing, treatment, and prevention of it can literally be lifesaving for them.
To clear up any misinformation young men may believe, here are the basics of what they need to know to protect themselves from this potentially deadly disease.
1. The disease can be more aggressive
Men diagnosed with prostate cancer at 55 or younger are more likely than older men to die from the disease. Tumors found in younger men tend to grow more quickly and be more lethal than tumors found in older men. In fact, many older men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer eventually die from other causes. Unfortunately, when prostate cancer is found in younger men, it may have already progressed to later-stage cancer making it more difficult to treat.
2. Family history increases the risk of prostate cancer
Men with a family history of prostate cancer are approximately three times more at risk for developing the disease than men without a family history. Any man who has a father or brother, who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, should begin their prostate cancer screenings at an earlier age.
3. Symptoms of early prostate cancer are few if any
The symptoms of early-stage prostate cancer tend to be silent. By the time a man notices changes, the disease is often already at an advanced stage. The signs and symptoms indicating the possibility of prostate cancer may include:
• Frequent urinating or trouble urinating
• Difficulty starting or stopping a urine stream
• Blood in semen or urine
• Erectile dysfunction
• Benign prostatic hyperplasia or enlarged prostate
• Pain or discomfort in the pelvic area
• Bone pain in the hips, back, ribs indicating cancer may have spread
• Numbness or weakness in the legs and feet
Any man experiencing any of the above symptoms should talk to their healthcare provider.
4. Screening tests are simple
A simple blood test taken in a doctor’s office is the first step in screening for prostate cancer. This test measures prostate-specific antigen or PSA. PSA is a protein produced by normal, as well as malignant, cells of the prostate gland. While a PSA level at or below 4.0 ng/ml has traditionally been considered normal, the American Cancer Society recommends yearly testing for men with a PSA of 2.5 or higher.
All men should have a baseline screening for PSA beginning at age 40. Depending on the results and a man’s family history of the disease, a decision can be made with his doctor on the frequency of PSA testing. A digital rectal exam, to detect abnormal areas or lumps in the prostate, may also be part of screening.
5. Treatment decisions often based on age at diagnosis
Men diagnosed at an early age may have different treatments recommended by their oncologist than older men. Surgery and radiation are treatment mainstays for prostate cancer.
Another emerging therapy is proton beam radiation. All men diagnosed with prostate cancer, no matter what their age, should have shared decision making – getting the information they need to consider and discuss screening and treatment choices that coincide with their personal values.
6. Prevention begins with eating a healthy diet
What a man eats matters regarding prostate cancer. The more processed meats (sausage, bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats, deli meats, pepperoni, etc.) the higher his risk of developing the disease. Fried and other processed foods such as salty snacks and foods high in sugar, can also accelerate cancer’s progression.
Beginning as early as possible, young men should make efforts to choose health-promoting foods such as:
-and lean red meat
7. Physical activity matters too
Exercise has countless benefits in a man’s overall health, aiding as an effective tool for reducing prostate cancer. One important benefit of regular, consistent exercise is helping men reach and maintain healthy body weight. Men who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of developing the disease.
All young men should have an annual physical exam with their doctor.
As they approach the age of 40, they should discuss with their healthcare provider the basics of prostate cancer screening and learn as much as they can about the disease to be proactive in protecting their prostate health.