Information taken from the Urology Care Foundation, UrologyHealth.org.
Prostate health – much like success in football – depends on key members of your team. In prostate health, the urologist is the head coach leading your healthcare team.
Any football fan or player knows the best offense is a good defense. Learning about your risk for prostate cancer is like learning about your opponent. The more you know, the better you can pick the best plays to keep you in the game – for life.
Start by knowing your body. Only men have a prostate. This walnut-shaped gland is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate sits under the bladder, in front of the rectum. It surrounds the urethra (the tube that carries urine and semen out of the body). The prostate’s main job is to help make fluid for semen to protect and energize sperm.
As you age, your prostate can become larger. It’s a normal part of aging for most men. By the time you reach age 40, your prostate may have gone from the size of a walnut to the size of a golf ball. By the time you reach 60, it might be the size of a lemon.
The most common prostate health related problems are non-cancerous. They are an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia – BPH) or an infection or inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis). Men with urinary problems should also talk to a healthcare provider about their prostate health, as they could be a symptom of one of the conditions above.
Because of its location inside the pelvis, there are no prostate self-exams. Healthcare providers use two tests to check the health of the prostate. They are the digital rectal exam (DRE) and a blood test called prostate-specific antigen (PSA).
What Is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is cancer that begins in the prostate gland. This year more than 164,000 American men will learn they have prostate cancer. To put that statistic into perspective, that is twice the number of fans who fit into MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL New York Giants and Jets. Most men find treatments that help, but more than 29,000 men died last year in the U.S. from prostate cancer.
Who Is at Risk for Prostate Cancer?
For all men, prostate cancer risk grows with age. About 1 in 9 men in the U.S. will face a diagnosis of prostate cancer in his lifetime. African American men face a higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. About 1 in 6 African American men will be diagnosed; often, with more deadly forms of the disease.
About 1 in 5 men whose fathers or brothers had prostate cancer will also be diagnosed. This is a larger concern if two or more close relatives have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and they were younger than age 55 at the time.
To decrease your risk of prostate cancer, it helps to eat a diet low in animal fat and high in fruits and vegetables. Most doctors agree that heart healthy steps also keep your prostate healthy. The primary goals are eating with your health in mind, exercising daily, losing excess weight and quitting smoking.
What Are the Symptoms of Prostate Cancer?
In the early stages, prostate cancer may cause no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, they are similar to an enlarged prostate or BPH. That’s why it’s vital to talk to your provider when you have urinary symptoms. Things to watch for include: being unable to urinate, pain or burning with urination, or a weak flow. Blood in the urine or semen, and painful ejaculation can also be signs. Late-stage cancer would cause bone pain in your hips, pelvis, lower back, or upper thighs. Also, it would cause a loss of appetite and/or unwanted weight loss.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider right away about your prostate health. For more information about prostate cancer stats and symptoms, visit UrologyHealth.org/Resources.
How Do You Screen for Prostate Cancer?
Two tests are done together: the PSA blood test and the DRE. Screening should be done if you’re older than 55 or have a family history, even if you have no symptoms. Talk to your doctor about whether prostate cancer screening is right for you.
What Is PSA?
PSA is a protein made only by the prostate gland. A high level of PSA can be a sign of other prostate diseases, not just prostate cancer.
What Is the PSA Test?
This blood test measures the level of PSA in the blood. Keeping your opponent’s score low is the name of the game. A low PSA is better for prostate health. A rapid rise in PSA may be a sign of something wrong. It could be from an enlarged prostate or prostatitis. Prostate cancer is the most serious reason for a high PSA result. Talk with your provider about when you should get the PSA test. Changes in your PSA score over time will be followed. This test is not often done alone. The combination of PSA testing and the DRE can help you stay on top of your game.
What Is the DRE?
The DRE is a 10 second test. During a DRE, the healthcare provider puts a lubricated gloved finger into the rectum. It is done to feel for any lumps, bumps or an abnormal shape or thickness in the prostate. The DRE can help the provider find prostate problems.
Prostate health is important for all men. Winning the battle against prostate diseases involves a team approach. Your urologist can be a solid head coach leading the way. Other healthcare providers, your family and your friends make up the team to put you on the path to victory. When a prostate problem arises, be sure to huddle up with your entire team and move into formation. Keep your head up as you advance toward your treatment plan, leading to a cure … touchdown and the extra point!