For men approaching the age of 40, as well as those who have already crossed that milestone, prostate cancer is one of the most talked-about health issues today. Prostate cancer is diagnosed more frequently than skin cancer and is second only to lung cancer in leading causes of cancer death in men. And according to a recent study from Northwestern University, more men than ever before are being diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer, where the cancer has spread to another place in the body, speaking to a need for “nationwide refinement” around prostate screenings and treatments.
Stark as these numbers may be, don't let such information frighten you. Prostate cancer is not only common, it’s also treatable with an early diagnosis.
Who Is at Risk for Prostate Cancer?
The average age for a prostate cancer diagnosis in men is 66 years old, and it is not seen typically before the age of 40. It should be noted, however, that African-American men represent a high-risk group for prostate cancer and are 1.6 times more likely to receive such a diagnosis than a Caucasian male. Also, they are more likely to develop prostate cancer at a younger age, with a higher rate of mortality.
While there are different schools of thought around why African-American men are more prone to prostate cancer, including differences in tissue genetics, nothing has been proven with any certainty to date.
What Treatment Options Are Available?
The mortality rate for prostate cancer is approximately one in 39 men, which speaks to the fact that treatment of the disease at an early stage can prevent prostate-cancer related death. Various treatment options exist, including surgical removal of the prostate (prostatectomy), radiation therapy or cryotherapy. These options will be reviewed by a multidisciplinary team with expertise in each modality, with the choice of treatment being individualized for each patient’s specific case.
No matter the course chosen, early detection is the key to reducing the risk of death from prostate cancer. Once it has spread to a patient’s lymph nodes or bones, the cancer becomes more difficult to treat. (Although in those cases, chemotherapy and hormone therapy may still be able to help extend the life of a patient.)
It’s Treatable When Caught Early
Since early detection is so critical to the treatment of prostate cancer, one of the most common questions men have is when - or how often - they should be screened. Screening options include a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test.
If you’re in a high-risk group - either due to age, family history or other factors - you should speak with your doctor about what is best for you, as there is uncertainty around whether the risk of unnecessary treatment is outweighed by the potential benefits of screening.
Life After Prostate Cancer
Men who undergo successful treatment for their prostate cancer can be left with some degree of erectile dysfunction or problems with urination. The good news is that treatments exist for these problems and can help prostate cancer survivors maintain fulfilling, active lives with maintained, positive outcomes for their urinary and sexual health.
While the prospect of a prostate cancer diagnosis can be stressful, know that it is common and treatable. So with early detection, you can spend more time being focused on treatment and recovery.