Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in men. It is the 3rd leading cause of death from cancer in men in Canada. Prostate cancer isn't likely to kill most men before something else does, but since prostate cancer still affects and kills so many men, it is important to learn about early signs, risk factors, testing methods and treatment options.
What is prostate cancer?
The prostate is part of the male reproductive and urinary systems. It is a walnut-sized gland just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. Cells in the prostate sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to benign (non-cancerous), pre-cancerous conditions or malignant cancer. So even though there is an abnormal growth in the prostate, it is not necessarily cancer. A visit to the doctor and a couple of tests are needed to make and confirm a diagnosis.
What are the risk factors associated with prostate cancer?
Most cancers are the result of many risk factors. But sometimes prostate cancer develops in men who don’t have any of the risk factors associated with it. The Canadian Cancer Society says "The risk of prostate cancer increases as men grow older. The chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer increases after age 50. Prostate cancer is diagnosed most often in men in their 60s. Prostate cancer occurs in men of African ancestry more often than men of other ethnicities. Men of African ancestry are also more likely to die of prostate cancer compared to other men. The reason for this is not clear." They also add that "The more first-degree relatives (father, brother, son) with prostate cancer a man has, the greater his risk of developing prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer risk also depends on your relative’s age at diagnosis. If your relative was diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 65, your chance of developing prostate cancer is higher than if your relative was diagnosed at an older age." Some of the possible risk factors for prostate cancer are:
- obesity or overweight
- tall adult height
- high dietary intake of calcium and dairy products
- low blood levels of vit.E or selenium
- smoking tobacco
- high blood levels of testosterone
- long term inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis)
- long term exposure to pesticides, cadmium and chemicals used to make rubber
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Different people have different symptoms for prostate cancer. Some men do not have symptoms at all. Some symptoms of prostate cancer are:
- difficulty starting urination
- weak or interrupted flow of urine
- frequent urination, especially at night
- difficulty emptying the bladder completely
- pain or burning during urination
- blood in the urine or semen
- pain in the back, hips, or pelvis that doesn’t go away
- painful ejaculation.
If you have any symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away. Keep in mind that these symptoms may be caused by conditions other than prostate cancer
Diagnosing prostate cancer early
When diagnosed and treated early, the chances of successful treatment are better.
If you have a higher than average risk, you may need to visit your doctor more often to check for prostate cancer. Talk to your family physician about tests that can help find prostate cancer early, like a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. The PSA test is used to measure the level of PSA (a protein secreted by the prostate gland) in the blood. When the PSA level is higher than normal, it may indicate prostate cancer. However, PSA levels may also be high in men with non-cancerous conditions of the prostate, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia or prostatitis. Therefore, it is not considered to be a diagnostic test when used alone.
A prostate biopsy may be performed if your doctor finds an abnormal growth during a digital rectal exam (DRE) or transrectal ultrasound (TRUS). It may also be done if the PSA level is higher than normal or has gone up over time. Your doctor could order some extra blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.
If you have been diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, you should discuss treatments and quality-of-life issues with your doctor. Common treatments are surgery and radiation. However, treatment is not the best option for many men as it can cause sexual, urinary, and bowel problems. For men with low-risk prostate cancer another option is “active surveillance.” In active surveillance, your doctor watches your condition closely. If tests show that it’s getting worse, you will get treatment. Otherwise, you are advised to follow-up for repeated tests at regular intervals.
If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, your doctor will create a treatment plan for you based on your symptoms and test results. I highly recommend you play an active role in developing your treatment plan. Make sure you take into account the possible side effects of treatments, your personal preferences, your overall health, age and life expectancy before you make a decision. Ask questions, gather information, and make an informed decision.
For most people, a cancer diagnosis changes life in a way that it's never the same again. At in4MED, we can make this stressful time easier by providing you with information about your diagnosis, connecting you to local support systems and being there for you as your trusted health advocates. As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
Prostate cancer statistics https://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/prostate/statistics/?region=on
Prostate Cancer Canada http://www.prostatecancer.ca/
Basic Information About Prostate Cancer https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/basic_info/index.htm
Prostate cancer screening https://www.ontario.ca/page/prostate-cancer-screening
Low-Risk Prostate Cancer: Don’t rush to get treatment https://choosingwiselycanada.org/low-risk-prostate-cancer/
Prostate Cancer—Patient Version https://www.cancer.gov/types/prostate
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.