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Determining Your Risk, Screening Schedule, and Best Steps Toward Prevention
Prostate cancer is a major health concern for American men, with over 2.5 million suffering from the disease today. Like most cancers, prostate cancer can be a life-threatening condition, but it does have some unique characteristics that could impact any man’s treatment and prognosis.
Unlike some other cancers, quick, aggressive treatment isn’t always the answer. The way prostate cancer develops, combined with your personal health and medical history, will dictate your best course of action. Learn the key points about spotting, diagnosing and managing prostate cancer to stay one step ahead of the threat.
Some Men Have a Significantly Greater Risk
Prostate cancer risk increases with age, but age isn’t the only factor. While it’s rare for men under 40 to develop the disease, you have a higher chance of diagnosis earlier in life when your genes, ethnicity and lifestyle are working against you.
Although scientists can’t explain why, prostate cancer affects black men more often than other groups, and Asian men have the lowest risk. But your family history plays an important role, too: if your father or brother was diagnosed, you could be two to three times more likely to develop the disease than the general population.
A sedentary lifestyle and poor diet that’s heavy in red meat can tip the scales even further.
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Changes in Bathroom Habits Aren't the Only Warning Signs
In many cases, frequent urination, blood in the urine, or problems emptying the bladder are what send men to their doctor for a prostate exam. However, many diseases can bring a wide array of symptoms, and that goes for prostate cancer, too.
While changes in your urination habits shouldn’t be ignored, here are a few other potentially problematic symptoms to watch for:
- Blood in the semen
- Pain with ejaculation
- Swelling in the legs
- Discomfort in your pelvis
Prostate cancer is fairly quiet — it can develop slowly over the course of years before any symptoms appear. Pay close attention to any changes in your pelvic region, but keep an eye out for general dips in your health, which might indicate the disease is gaining strength.
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Diet Affects Prostate Cancer Risk (to a Degree)
While there’s no magical food to prevent the onset of cancer, certain wholesome ingredients are known to improve your body’s defenses and ward off dangerous cell mutations. There’s no specific diet for prostate cancer prevention, but you can help protect against all cancers with lots of veggies, fruits, whole grains, and lean, non-meat protein sources like beans and nuts.
Remember that not even “superfoods” can cancel out particularly unhealthy choices like processed meats, so be sure to avoid the unwholesome diet fillers as you load up on healthy ingredients.
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Prostate Cancer Screening Isn't Always a Good Idea
It would seem that screening for any type of cancer improves your odds of catching it early, but that’s not always true. In the case of prostate cancer, the screening is known as PSA testing — a simple blood test that can detect a prostate-specific antigen. When there’s a lot of that particular protein present, it could point to cancer.
However, the PSA test isn’t perfect: it has a high false-positive rate (since PSA can indicate inflammation or enlargement as well as cancer), and it could prompt doctors to treat slow-growing tumors that aren’t life-threatening. Since screening can lead to unnecessary tests and invasive treatment, experts suggest that men at low-risk for prostate cancer don’t have a test each and every year.
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Prostate Cancer Can Be Related to Female Cancers
Not all cancers are directly related to the prostate variety, but certain genes can cause an assortment of cancers. The BRCA2 gene plays a role in both breast and ovarian cancer, and when it mutates in men, their chances of developing and dying from prostate cancer rise.
On the whole, a small percentage of prostate cancer patients have this particular gene mutation, but it’s an important finding that should prompt you to speak with your doctor if there is breast or ovarian cancer in the family, and you suspect BRCA mutations might be present in your genetic code.
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You Have Several Treatment Options
As cancer research advances, more targeted treatments become available. This is good news for anyone with a prostate cancer diagnosis, since it allows you to find a treatment that’s more suited to your unique case and your lifestyle.
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are the first lines of attack for most cancers, and while they are also viable options for prostate cancer, there are other therapies that could spare you some expense and discomfort. Removing the prostate gland will often eliminate the threat entirely, but hormone therapy to stop the production of testosterone can work by cutting off the supply to the tumor.
Brachytherapy (radiation inserted directly into the affected tissue) and cryosurgery (freezing the cancer cells to kill them) are other options you can discuss with your doctor.
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Treatment Side Effects Can Be Difficult to Handle
Obviously, getting rid of the cancer is the top priority; sometimes comfort has to take a back seat to survival. Prostate cancer surgery has been known to cause erectile dysfunction and problems with urine leakage, which can have a fairly significant impact on your quality of life.
Fortunately, complications aren’t inevitable. Surgeons may be able to work around the nerves that help trigger and maintain erections, so your sex life won’t necessarily end with prostate cancer treatment.
Also, bladder issues are less permanent than you might imagine: most leakage happen only in the recovery stage following surgery, and within a year, the vast majority of men have as much bladder control as they had before their operation.
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Survival Rates Are High
Like other types of cancer, late-stage prostate cancer is a serious problem that can be very difficult to eradicate, and it’s the second-leading cause of cancer death among American men. On the other hand, when it’s caught in the early stages, this cancer often responds amazingly well to treatment: almost 100 percent of men who are diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer survive for more than five years.
The most important thing you can do for your prostate health is discuss your particular set of risks with your doctor (considering your genetics), and follow their prescribed guidelines for screening. Although no man is immune to the disease, improving your understanding, your lifestyle, and your self-monitoring can go far to keeping you free from prostate cancer.