Welcome back! Last week, we talked about a little-known symptom of ADHD called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. If you or someone you know has ADHD, then this is a blog I would suggest catching up on. If you missed this blog, here is the link: Click HERE
I’m a little more sensitive around this topic than probably most women because I lost a dear family member to this cancer. It started as one thing and led to another. So, men, this blog is for you.
Is Prostate Cancer common?
Yes. Did you know that Prostate Cancer is the most common cancer in men? It can trick you as it tends to grow very slowly and may not even cause major harm. The problem is that some types are more aggressive and spread quickly. Let’s talk about how we should be monitoring our bodies.
What should we look for?
When it first appears, there are usually no symptoms, however, later on, symptoms can include:
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Difficulty starting or stopping urination
- A weak or interrupted urinary stream
- Painful or burning sensation during urination or ejaculation
- Blood in urine or semen
If you have advanced cancer you may experience deep pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs.
Is it just an enlarged prostate?
As men age, it’s normal for the prostate to grow larger, and sometimes this can even mimic symptoms of cancer. The enlarged prostate can press on the bladder or urethra and this is where you will experience symptoms.
If it’s determined to not be caused by cancer, then this is called Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). You can get treatment if you are bothered by the symptoms. Another issue that can cause symptoms is something called prostatitis. This will create inflammation and/or infection and can cause a fever to be present. In most cases, you can get treated with medication.
Are there risk factors that I can control?
Unfortunately, growing older is the greatest risk factor, especially after the age of 50. Once you hit 70, studies suggest that anywhere from 31% to 83% of men have some form of prostate cancer, though there may be no outward symptoms.
Your family history can also increase your risk: having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles the risk. African-American men and Caribbean men of African descent are at high risk and have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world.
What CAN I control then?
I’m so glad you asked! Diet. In countries where people eat meat and high-fat dairy, prostate cancer is more common. The reason for this link is unclear. Animal fat from red meat may boost male hormone levels, and this may fuel the growth of cancerous prostate cells. A diet too low in fruits and vegetables may also play a role, so eat your fruits and veggies.
I don’t want this…can I catch it early? If so, how?
Screening tests are available to find prostate cancer early, but there are no governmental guidelines for testing. Part of the reason may be that the tests may find cancers that are so slow-growing that medical treatments would offer no benefit. The treatments themselves can have serious side effects. The American Cancer Society advises men to talk with a doctor about screening tests, beginning at:
- Age 50 for average-risk men who expect to live at least 10 more years
- Age 45 for men at high risk; this includes African-Americans and those with a father, brother, or son diagnosed before age 65
- Age 40 for men with more than one first-degree relative diagnosed at an early age
Ask your doctor to discuss the potential risks and benefits of being tested.
The dreaded DRE
I know, I know, you don’t want someone putting their finger in your rectum. Women can empathize. But honestly, a digital rectal exam (DRE) is to feel for bumps or hard spots on the prostate. This is important information, folks. Your doctor may also order a blood test that can be used to measure prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein produced by prostate cells. An elevated level may indicate a higher chance that you have cancer, but you can have a high level and still be cancer-free. It is also possible to have a normal PSA and prostate cancer.
I’m not going to tell you what is considered a normal test or an abnormal test. I would rather you speak directly to your doctor about that, and let them interpret your test results.
What comes after a positive test result?
Well, you may need to have a biopsy. A needle is inserted either through the rectum wall or the skin between the rectum and scrotum. Multiple small tissue samples are removed and examined under a microscope. I know it doesn’t sound fun, but a biopsy is the best way to detect cancer and predict whether it is slow-growing or aggressive.
I understand. After I get the biopsy, then what happens?
A pathologist looks for cell abnormalities and “grades” the tissue sample from 1 to 5. Scoring will help determine the chances of the cancer spreading. The score can also tell your doctor what type of treatment to give you that will help you to beat cancer. If you want to know more about scoring and grades, click HERE for more information.
Are there different tests that sound more appealing?
Yes, now that you mention it.
You may need additional tests to see if cancer has spread beyond the prostate. These can include an ultrasound, a CT scan, or maybe even an MRI scan. A radionuclide bone scan traces an injection of low-level radioactive material to help detect cancer that has spread to the bone.
I hear people say their cancer is “stage 4”. What does that mean?
Doctors use something called “staging” to describe how far prostate cancer has spread (metastasized) and to help determine the best treatment.
- Stage I: Cancer is small and still within the prostate.
- Stage II: Cancer is more advanced, but still confined to the prostate.
- Stage III: Cancer is a high grade or has spread beyond the outer part of the prostate or into nearby tissues such as seminal vesicles, the bladder, or the rectum.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread to lymph nodes or distant organs such as bones or lungs.
This all sounds scary. Can I survive this?
Per The American Cancer Society: “Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Ask your doctor, who is familiar with your situation, how these numbers may apply to you.“
If you would like to review survival rates from five years ago, you can click HERE and go to their web page to compare.
I personally think that everyone is different and it’s not always wise to compare your prognosis with other men’s prognosis. They don’t have exactly what you have, for exactly the amount of time you’ve had it and they don’t have the same body makeup that you have. You may survive something that they could not.
What is the common treatment for this cancer?
According to WebMD, external beam radiation to kill cancer cells can be used as a first treatment or after prostate cancer surgery. It can also help relieve bone pain from the spread of cancer. In brachytherapy, tiny radioactive pellets about the size of a grain of rice are inserted into the prostate. Both methods can impair erectile function. Fatigue, urinary problems, and diarrhea are other possible side effects.
There are some centers that provide proton therapy, (a form of radiation therapy) for prostate cancer.
Can’t they just remove it?
They can remove the prostate if deemed necessary, and that procedure is called a radical prostatectomy. This works when the cancer is confined to the prostate. This surgery can impair your urinary and sexual function, but both may improve with time.
Any other therapies?
Yes. You may be given the option of hormone therapy, which may shrink or slow the growth of cancer, but unless it is used with another therapy it will not eliminate cancer. Drugs or hormones block or stop the production of testosterone and other male hormones, called androgens. Side effects can include hot flashes, growth of breast tissue, weight gain, and impotence.
What does chemotherapy do?
Chemotherapy (chemo) kills cancer cells throughout the body, including those outside the prostate, so it is used to treat more advanced cancer and cancer that did not respond to hormone therapy. Treatment is usually intravenous and is given in cycles lasting 3-6 months. Because the chemotherapy kills other fast-growing cells in the body, you may have hair loss and mouth sores. Other side effects include nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
What about cryotherapy?
This specialized treatment freezes and kills cancerous cells within the prostate, but It is not as widely used because little is known about its long-term effectiveness. It’s less invasive than surgery, with a shorter recovery time. Because freezing damages nerves, many men become impotent after cryosurgery. There can be temporary pain and burning sensations in the bladder and bowel.
Isn’t there just a vaccine I can get to prevent this?
No. Unfortunately. However, there is a vaccine you can get after you get cancer. This vaccine is designed to treat, not prevent, prostate cancer by spurring your body’s immune system to attack prostate cancer cells. Immune cells are removed from your blood, activated to fight cancer, and infused back into the blood. Three cycles occur in one month. It’s used for advanced prostate cancer that no longer responds to hormone therapy. Mild side effects can occur such as fatigue, nausea, and fever.
Can I eat my way to health?
In many, many ways, the answer to this is yes.
Cancer survivors can eat to stay strong. This means:
- Five or more fruits and veggies a day
- Whole grains instead of white flour or white rice
- Limit high-fat meat
- Limit or eliminate processed meat (hot dogs, cold cuts, bacon)
- Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks per day (if you drink)
A word of caution
Beware of “supplements” advertised on social media or TV that claim to prevent or cure any type of cancer. You can talk to your doctor about supplements, but remember there are many people outside of the medical community who are only interested in making money. Your Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) is interested in your mind/body/spirit. The whole patient, not just one part or one disease.
Be well…and get your wellness appointment scheduled! It will soon be November, so make your appointments NOW.
As always, this blog is not a replacement for sound medical advice. I am not a doctor. Please make an appointment to see your healthcare provider and put a good plan in place that works for you and the needs of your body.
That’s all I have for you this week, dear reader. I’ll see you back here next Wednesday to share another cup of coffee. Until then, be good to yourself and each other.
Mind, Body, Spirit…Osteopathic Doctors treat the whole person, not just the ailment. Is your PCP a DO? Would you like to learn more about Osteopathic Physicians? Click HERE!