The prostate is a key part of the male reproductive system. It is a walnut-sized gland located behind the base of the penis, in front of the rectum and below the bladder. The prostate’s main function is to produce seminal fluid, the liquid in semen that protects, supports and helps transport sperm. Because of the gland’s function and position in a man’s body, prostate cancer and prostate cancer treatments can have serious negative effects on a man’s life.
Prostate cancer begins when normal cells in the gland change and grow abnormally. It can grow quietly for years, which means most men with the disease have no obvious symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they often are similar to other, less serious, prostate conditions.
Nationally, prostate cancer is a common disease among older men – over 90 percent of prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men over 55 years of age. Because most prostate cancers are slow growing, a majority of older men will die with prostate cancer, not from prostate cancer. However, prostate cancer can be a very serious disease, and men are strongly encouraged to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of screening for prostate cancer with their physicians.
Information on the number of new cases (incidence) and deaths (mortality) attributable to prostate cancer can be found on the New Mexico Tumor Registry website: http://som.unm.edu/nmtr/cancer_statistics.html. This site allows users to view data on prostate cancer incidence and mortality rates in New Mexico which can be accessed by age, race, ethnicity, county or region.
Only men have a prostate. The highest known risk factors for a man to develop prostate cancer are:
- Older age
- African-American race
- Family history of prostate cancer in a brother or father
- Eating diets high in animal fat or low in vegetables may be risk factors for prostate cancer
Many men with prostate cancer have no symptoms. If symptoms appear they may include:
- Difficulty urinating.
- A weak urine stream.
- Frequent urge to urinate, especially during the night.
- Painful or burning urination.
- Blood in the urine.
- Prostate cancer that has spread to the bone may cause bone pain, particularly in the back.
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible. Keep in mind that these symptoms may also be caused by other problems common to older men that are not cancer, such as an infection or an enlarged prostate.
Risk factors are things that increase your chance of getting cancer. You can do nothing about some risk factors, like age and family history. But there are some things you can do to improve your overall health and reduce your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
- Fit in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (such as walking) into your daily routine.
- Eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Strive for a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke.
- Don’t drink alcohol, or limit alcohol use.
Screening is when a test is used to look for a disease before there are any symptoms. Cancer screening tests are effective when they can detect disease early. For some cancers, detecting disease early can lead to more effective treatment and better outcomes. In other cases, the risks associated with screening and treatment may be greater than the benefits.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against screening for prostate cancer using PSA-based screenings for men that do not have symptoms. A better test and better treatment options are needed. Until these are available, the USPSTF has recommended against screening for prostate cancer. Men should discuss prostate cancer screening with their doctors.
Screening tests are different from diagnostic tests. Diagnostic tests are used when a person has symptoms, and tests are intended to find out what is causing the symptoms.
Informed Decision Making
Understanding that men and their doctors may continue to screen for prostate cancer, it is recommended that men make informed decisions about whether or not to be screened. When a man makes an informed decision about prostate cancer screening, he:
- Understands the nature and risks of prostate cancer
- Understands the risks, benefits of and alternatives to screening
- Partipates in the decision to be screened or not - at a level he desires
- Makes a decision consistent with his preferences and values
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages all doctors to have open conversations with their patients about prostate cancer and PSA screening.
- Basic information about prostate cancer (Centers for Disease Control website)
- What you need to know about prostate cancer (National Cancer Institute website)