September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in America – one in nine men will be diagnosed in his lifetime. Men over 55 years old, black men or men whose fathers or brothers have been diagnosed with prostate cancer are at especially high risk.
Unfortunately, prostate cancer does not usually have early warning signs. A tumor growing in the prostate generally does not push against anything to cause pain, so without regular prostate exams, the disease can go undetected for years.
The best defense against prostate cancer is to be screened for it. The American Cancer Society recommends that men over 50 with average risk (or men over 45 who have risk factors listed above) should talk to their doctors about getting screened for prostate cancer.
One of the most common ways to screen for prostate cancer is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. PSA is a substance made by both normal cells and cancer cells in the prostate gland. Men without prostate cancer usually have a PSA of less than 4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood, but elevated PSA levels do not automatically signify cancer. Enlarged prostate, age and even bike riding can cause an increase in PSA. Even so, men with PSA levels above 2.5 ng/mL should be retested each year, whereas men with lower PSA levels may be tested only once every two years.
Another common screening for prostate cancer is a digital rectal exam. In this test, a doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel for bumps on the back of the prostate, where cancer often begins. This exam may be uncomfortable, but it is not painful and only takes a short time. While other digital rectum exams are not as effective at finding cancer as PSA counts, they can enable doctors to find cancer when PSA levels are normal.
With proper treatment, according to the American Cancer Society, cancer patients have a 10-year relative survival rate of 98 percent. The earlier prostate cancer is discovered and treated, the better. This National Prostate Health Month, make it a goal to talk to your doctor about getting screened, or encourage your father, brother or husband to make an appointment.
James Frogge, MD, is certified by the American Board of Urology. Frogge has practiced urology for 24 years and joined Freeman Urology Associates in 2014.