Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men and the second leading cause of cancer death in men, behind lung cancer. Some prostate cancers will grow quickly and spread throughout the body, while others may grow slowly and will never impact a man’s health or life expectancy.
Prostate cancer often has no symptoms unless the growth presses on the urethra. Getting regularly screened for prostate cancer can be an important step in prevention.
Types of Screenings
Cancer screenings are performed to help detect the early signs of the disease, when it’s most treatable. There are two prostate cancer screenings: the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and the digital rectal examination (DRE).
A PSA test measures the amount of PSA hormone in the blood. During a DRE test, your doctor checks the back portion of the prostate for any irregular size or texture, such as a growth.
To Screen or Not to Screen
At this time, there is no consensus on the best strategy to effectively reduce the risk of prostate cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a debate among physicians about whether or not regular prostate cancer screening helps.
While medical experts are working together to conduct major clinical trials to help determine if regular screening reduces prostate cancer deaths in men, today, there are differences of opinion.
Proponents for regular screening believe that scientific evidence shows that early diagnosis and treatment can save lives. They recommend that men should be screened annually after age 50, earlier if they are African-American or if a father or brother has the disease.
Proponents against regular screening believe that prostate cancer may never affect a man’s health and treating it can cause temporary or long-lasting side effects such as incontinence (inability to control urine flow, leakage) or impotence (inability to keep an erection). Their position is that screening can cause more harm than good.
One thing is for sure: both sides agree that every man needs the most up-to-date, balanced information about the risks and limitations of screening and the side effects of prostate cancer treatment, and should make an informed decision with the advice of his doctor.
When Prostate Cancer is Diagnosed
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s very important to discuss with your physician all the treatment options and potential risks if you choose not to be treated. If prostate cancer is found in its early stages and has not spread, your treatment options may include:
• Watchful waiting, or monitoring the cancer by regular PSA and DRE screenings, and treating only if the cancer grows larger
• External or internal radiation therapy to destroy cancerous cells in the prostate
• Hormone therapy to keep the prostate from enlarging
• Cryotherapy, which freezes and destroys cancer cells
• Surgery (radical prostatectomy) to remove the prostate
Remember, every man is different. Doctors can determine your risk of a deadly prostate cancer according to your risk factors, like family history of prostate cancer, race, age and current health status.
For more information about screenings, testing, treatments and studies, visit healthfinder.gov, and follow up with your doctor if you have concerns about your risk factors and screening options.