Prostate cancer

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What is prostate cancer?

The prostate is a small gland about the size of a walnut found only in men and located in front of the rectum, below the bladder. Each year approximately 240,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and nearly 30,000 die as a result – making prostate cancer the second-leading cause of cancer death in men.

Older men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer as nearly two of every three cases occur in men age 65 and older. While this potentially deadly disease can be successfully treated, early detection and treatment drastically increase one’s chances of survival. Warning signs of advanced prostate cancer can include urinary problems, erectile dysfunction and pain in the hips.

Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer

Prostate cancer can often go undetected as many cases are first detected during routine health checkups. While some of the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer can be related to other medical issues, patients who experience any of the following issues should consult with an ETMC First Physician to discuss screening options:

  • frequent urination, especially at night
  • difficulty starting and holding back urination
  • weak or interrupted flow, pain or burning during urination
  • blood in urine or semen
  • erectile dysfunction
  • painful ejaculation
  • pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips or upper thighs

Risk factors for prostate cancer

While eating healthy and making good lifestyle choices typically can help reduce the risk of developing cancer, many of the risk factors for prostate cancer are unavoidable. It’s recommended that men begin consulting with an ETMC First Physician to discuss screening options if they meet any of the following prostate cancer risk factors:

Age

The chances of having prostate cancer increase dramatically after age 50. Nearly six out of 10 cases of prostate cancer are found in men older than 65. While it’s uncommon for men younger than 40 to develop prostate cancer, those with a higher risk may consider discussing screening options with an ETMC First Physician before age 50.

Race and ethnicity

Though the reasons are not clear, the highest incidence of prostate cancer in the United States is found in African-Americans and in Caribbean people of African ancestry. Hispanic/Latinos and Asian Americans are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to develop prostate cancer.

Family history

Prostate cancer can be inherited. Those who have a direct relative, such as a father or brother, who has had the disease are twice as likely to develop it as well. Men who have had several relatives affected by prostate cancer are at an even higher risk and should begin discussing screening options with an ETMC First Physician before age 50.

Gene changes

Studies have shown that inherited gene changes can raise prostate cancer risk but only in certain cases. For example, men with Lynch syndrome – also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer – as well as those with inherited mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at an increased risk of getting prostate cancer.

Poor diet

Though the exact role is unclear, studies suggest that diets with a low amount of fresh fruits and vegetables and a high amount of red meat and high-fat dairy products can lead to an increased chance of getting prostate cancer. Other studies show that high calcium intakes, such as dairy foods, can also raise the risk of developing prostate cancer. Calcium, it should be noted, does provide numerous other health benefits, but monitoring your intake is important.

Obesity and diabetes

Despite numerous studies on the topic, obesity and diabetes are not associated with heightened risks of prostate cancer. However, obese men may be at a greater risk for having more advanced prostate cancer and the chances of survival are typically lower.

Screenings for prostate cancer

Men who are at an average risk of developing prostate cancer should begin discussing screening options at age 50. Those with a higher risk – including African-Americans and men who have a father, brother or son who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age – should start having conversations at age 45.

The most common type of screening for prostate cancer is a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. PSA is a protein that is produced by the prostate gland. This test measures the blood level of PSA and the higher a man’s PSA level, the more likely it is he has prostate cancer. Not all men who have a heightened PSA will develop prostate cancer, and some men with prostate cancer do not have an elevated PSA.

A digital rectal exam is another method used to check for prostate cancer. This test checks for abnormalities in the lower rectum and is typically a part of a complete physical for men.

Treatment for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer treatment is determined on a case-by-case basis. Our experts at the ETMC Cancer Institute work together to help formulate detailed treatment plans to help fight prostate cancer with advanced treatment and therapy modalities, such as CyberKnife stereotactic radiosurgery technology to deliver radiation therapy, as well as personalized support services.

In some cases, prostate seed implants can also be used to treat prostate cancer. The ETMC Cancer Institute was the first facility in East Texas to offer the transrectal, ultrasound-guided brachytherapy. This one-day procedure uses small radioactive seeds – about the size of a grain of rice – placed inside the prostate gland to give direct, high doses of radiation to the tumor. Side effects are mild because the radiation only goes where it is needed, and patients are usually able to go home the same day.

For more information regarding prostate cancer, schedule an appointment with an ETMC First Physician.