September is “Prostate Cancer Awareness Month,” usually a time when I'd be speaking to men about the importance of prostate screenings. But I'd like to take this time to talk to you, the women who are often the support system and caregivers for your family members, male or female. Prostate cancer can be a sensitive subject and some men may feel embarrassed or scared to speak about their feelings, ask for help in setting up an appointment or even having you go with them. To help equip you with information to assist the men in your life, I’ve compiled some of the most common prostate cancer questions you might encounter, along with their answers.
Is prostate cancer common?
According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men after skin cancer.
Who is at risk for prostate cancer?
One out of six American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. The median age for men who show signs of the disease is 55 to 65, and as a man gets older, his risk increases. African-American men are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 2.4 times more likely to die as a result of the disease.
Is prostate cancer hereditary?
Family history of prostate cancer doubles a man’s odds of being diagnosed to one in three. If his father or brother had prostate cancer, he is twice as likely to develop the disease. The risk is further increased if the cancer was diagnosed in a family member at an age younger than 55 or if it affected three or more family members. Additionally, we know that a man is more likely to get prostate cancer if his mother or sister had breast cancer.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is often first detected by a doctor during a routine check-up and is commonly diagnosed at such an early stage that there are no apparent symptoms. Even though most men don’t experience symptoms, it is important to tell a doctor if he is experiencing any problems with urination such as a need to urinate frequently, a weak or interrupted urine flow, pain or burning while urinating, and/or blood in the urine or semen. Difficulty having an erection, painful ejaculation, or frequent pain and stiffness in the lower back, hips or upper thighs should also be noted.
What are the treatment options for prostate cancer?
Depending on the situation, the treatment options for men with prostate cancer may include watchful waiting, surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, vaccine treatment, or bone-directed treatment. Sometimes there are several choices for treatment so it is important to discuss all options, goals and possible side effects with a urological specialist for guidance in making the best decision.
Will prostate cancer treatment affect sexual performance or cause incontinence?
While erectile dysfunction (ED) and urinary incontinence are possibilities following surgery or radiation therapy, these side effects vary by age and physical condition. Robotic and nerve sparing surgical procedures have improved outcomes for patients, so be sure to inquire about the surgeon’s outcomes for ED and incontinence as well as the number of surgical procedures (open or robotic) he or she has performed.
Are vasectomies or sexual activity linked to prostate cancer?
No, and on the contrary, some studies show that men who reported more frequent ejaculations had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer.
What can men do to reduce the risk of prostate cancer?
Studies have shown that healthy diet and regular exercise is vital. Exercise reduces the risk of fatal forms of prostate cancer by 41 percent, and among survivors, those who were very active (playing tennis, running, swimming, or biking for example) for five hours a week had a 56 percent lower risk of death from the disease.
Asking questions and seeking answers is the key to making informed decisions regarding the well-being of your family. Since “Prostate Cancer Awareness Month” provides an easy way to broach the subject at home, I hope that you use this information to start a meaningful conversation with the man in your life about prostate cancer and his personal risks, while encouraging an open dialogue with his regular healthcare provider to develop a screening plan.