September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s what you need to know and why you or the high-risk men in your life should get screened.
The prostate is a small gland that sits below the bladder. It’s part of the male reproductive system. Unfortunately, the prostate is prone to high cancer rates, as 1 in 41 men die of prostate cancer in the United States.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, the perfect time to start getting screened for prostate cancer at your local clinic. More than 2.9 million prostate cancer survivors are alive in the U.S. today, so you can live a long life after diagnosis if you take the necessary steps and protect your health.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is a form of the disease that attacks the prostate gland in men. This form of cancer is incredibly common, as one out of every nine men will be diagnosed with it at some point in their lifetime. In total, the disease affects more than 3 million men worldwide every year, including close to 175,000 in the U.S.
In addition, close to 32,000 American men will die from prostate cancer this year, making it the second leading cause of death in males in the country behind lung cancer.
There are things that can put you in a higher risk category, as about 60% of prostate cancer cases are found in men over the age of 65, and the disease is rare in men under 40. Also, African American men and those who have a family history that includes prostate cancer are at a higher risk than other demographics.
It’s crucial that you know the risk and takes the necessary precautions to avoid becoming another statistic.
Symptoms of prostate cancer
The scariest thing about prostate cancer is that, often, there aren’t any symptoms. You might feel completely fine until the disease has reached a critical state, at which point treatment becomes far more challenging.
If you do show symptoms, you could experience:
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Difficulty starting to urinate
- Blood in your urine
- Pain when urinating
- A struggle to maintain an erection
Of course, these symptoms could mean that you have a different problem, but they are a sign that it’s time to get screened.
In more advanced cases of prostate cancer, symptoms could include:
- Bone fractures
- Pain in the pelvis, ribs, or spine
- Leg weakness
Once the disease gets to this stage, it has likely spread to other parts of the body, making treatment more difficult.
How to get screened
The entire point of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month is to put the disease in the public eye and encourage men, particularly those over the age of 50, to go ahead with a screening.
The goal of screening is to find cancerous cells before the symptoms arise, as this gives you the best survival rate.
Prostate cancer screening begins by taking a blood test called a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test. The prostate makes PSA, and if you have high levels in your blood, it could mean that you have cancer.
If your levels are high, your doctor might recommend a transrectal ultrasound, which produces a black and white image of the prostate, or a biopsy, where a small tissue sample is removed and examined by a health care professional.
From there, your doctor will determine if you have cancer and come up with a treatment plan.
Treatments and getting the help you need
When you’re diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s a frightening experience. Luckily, the survival rate is quite good if you’re able to catch the disease early.
In the earliest stages, your doctor might take a watchful waiting approach. The idea is that slow-developing cancer doesn’t require immediate attention because the treatment would cause more problems for you than the disease.
Another early-stage treatment is radical prostatectomy, where the prostate is removed through surgery. Keep in mind that this is a significant operation, and it will take you about three months to recover.
Three types of radiation might also be used to fight early forms of prostate cancer:
- Conformal radiation therapy
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy
The type of radiation used depends on the stage of cancer when treatment begins. Advanced cases of prostate cancer could require chemotherapy, especially in situations where the cells have spread to other parts of the body.
Androgen deprivation therapy is also used to fight more advanced forms of prostate cancer. This technique is a hormone treatment that reduces your androgen levels, which can stop cancerous growths.
As always, you’ll want to speak with your doctor about treatment options and listen to any recommendations that he or she provides.
Making a difference
If you are in a high-risk category for this disease, go for a prostate cancer screening. A quick blood test can potentially save your life because the earlier you’re diagnosed, the better your odds become.
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