Prostate cancer affects one out of seven men. Although it can be a serious disease, most men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it.
Fortunately, prostate cancer can often be detected with a simple blood test. The test measures the level of prostate-specific antigen in a blood sample. The blood level of PSA is often elevated in men with prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. However, other non-cancerous conditions can also cause a man’s PSA level to rise. The only way to know if the test is abnormal because of cancer is to do a biopsy.
For years, prostate cancer screening was a routine part of annual checkups for men over the age of 50. Today, it’s uncertain if the benefits of testing outweigh the risks. The best way to decide if you need to be screened is to talk it over with your health care provider.
“Your family history, your age, your ethnicity and whether you have any symptoms all play a role in the decision-making process for screening,” said Dr. Nelson Sarino, a family medicine physician at Town Center Medical Associates in Virginia Beach. “It’s a decision based on each person’s individual risk factors.”
Bon Secours Hampton Roads also offers a confidential, online questionnaire to help men determine their level of risk for prostate cancer.
Prostate Cancer Risk Factors
Research shows that a man’s risk for prostate cancer increases as he gets older. Having a family history of prostate cancer may also raise your risk. A man with a father, brother, or son who has had prostate cancer is two to three times more likely to develop the disease, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Prostate cancer is also more common in African-American men. Medical experts do not know why but African-American men often get prostate cancer at a younger age than others. The cancer also grows faster.
Prostate Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms of prostate cancer can vary among men. Some men have no symptoms at all.
Some symptoms of prostate cancer include:
- Difficulty starting urination.
- A weak or interrupted flow of urine.
- Frequent urination.
- Difficulty emptying the bladder completely.
- Pain or burning during urination.
- Blood in the urine or semen.
- Pain in the back, hips or pelvis.
- Painful ejaculation.
If you’re worried about any symptom you’re having, be sure to talk to your doctor about it.
Many men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer do not need to be treated for it. Unlike other types of cancer, some prostate cancers are so small and grow so slowly, they do not need treatment. Instead, it’s best to have “active surveillance,” which is where the cancer is monitored but not treated. Most men over the age of 65 who have prostate cancer do not die from the disease.
With many false-positive results from screening, figuring out whether you need to be screened underscores the importance of having a primary care physician who sees you on a regular basis.
“Talk to your doctor, especially if you have a family history of prostate cancer or have any questions about the screening,” Dr. Sarino said. “Your decision to be screened should be based on your own individual risk factors.”