Men’s Health Week: When To Screen For Prostate Cancer
Men’s Health Week concludes on the 16th of June when we celebrate Father’s Day. To spread awareness during this time of the year, we talk about health issues that predominantly affect men or the impact our culturally coded gender norms have on men’s health.
Last year it was Time To Talk About Masculinity and Health and we addressed the way ‘being though’ could cost men their lives. Statistics point out that men die at higher rates from the top 10 life-threatening conditions: heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, accidents, pneumonia, diabetes, suicide, kidney disease, chronic liver disease. This is not the result of a fundamental physiological difference between men and women, but rather the ramification of internalized toxic notions of masculinity.
This year we keep on fighting the good fight by encouraging men to get screenings for one of the most dangerous health issues that affect men – prostate cancer. How and when to talk to your doctor about a prostate cancer screening? Read on to find out and remember to never suffer in silence or brush off discomfort – your masculinity does not depend on how long you can neglect your health until a doctor’s appointment is unavoidable.
There is a debate going on in the medical world as to whether annual screening for prostate cancer is warranted, given that most types of prostate cancer progress rather slowly and don’t usually need immediate treatment if they even need treatment at all. Surprisingly, a lot of men go about their lives not knowing they have prostate cancer for many, many years because their cancer simply doesn’t present any real challenge when it comes to day-to-day life.
However, the not so reassuring part is that when prostate cancer does need immediate treatment, it’s a life-threatening level of emergency. In rare cases when prostate cancer can lead to complications such as metastasis, an early diagnosis can save lives.
There are no strict guidelines but to lean on the side of safety, here’s when you should ask your doctor about screening: at the age of 40 if there is a history of prostate cancer in your family; at age 45 if you’re of African American descent; at age 50 in all other cases. After age 70, however, screening is not recommended. Those general guidelines apply only to men who experience no symptoms. If you report something concerning to your doctor, together you’ll decide what the next step should be.
Warning signs and symptoms
So, when should you be concerned? When should you report something unusual to your doctor? Unfortunately, there are no early signs of prostate cancer. On the flip side, that usually can mean that the cancer is non-aggressive. When a man has a non-aggressive type of prostate cancer, his life is not at risk in the immediate up to 10 years.
This does not mean that you’re out of the woods: sometimes prostate cancer can progress slowly until all of a sudden it starts rapidly growing or spreading in other parts of the body. Screening should still be something you bring up with your doctor.
That being said, in some cases prostate cancer is not so silent. Immediately contact your doctor if you experience urgent and frequent need to urinate as this can either be a very early sign or a symptom of cancer in a more advanced stage. Any difficulty urinating, interruptions, pain or burning should alarm you as well. Sudden erectile dysfunction can be a warning sign as well. Pain during ejaculation, blood in the semen or urine, pressure or pain in the rectum and/or the pelvis, thighs, lower back region are never a good sign.
None of those symptoms on its own is a sign of prostate cancer but whatever the cause, you should get checked. Don’t wait until you’re absolutely sure that something is wrong – urinary dysfunction alone should be enough reason to schedule an appointment.
Unusual risk factors
Do you, by any chance, know if you have a family history of the genes that increase the risk of breast cancer like BRCA1 or BRCA2? If so, you might be at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. But you don’t need to know your entire family’s genetic code to estimate your risk. If there is a history of breast cancer, you might want to schedule that screening when you hit 40 even if you don’t have a single relative who battled prostate cancer.
The reason behind that is yet unknown but black men are at higher risk for prostate cancer, compared to men from any other racial background. Not only that but in black men prostate cancer is more likely to be of the aggressive variety.
Obesity is not good for prostate cancer prognosis as well. Obese men are more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced prostate cancer that is harder to treat. How prostate cancer will behave is very hard to predict so the only guarantee that you’ll be diagnosed early is to schedule an appointment for screening before you notice anything unusual.
No treatment needed?
The possible side-effects of cancer treatment lead many men and even some medical professionals down the path of prolonging the time until the first prostate cancer screening. The fact that prostate cancer is very slow to develop and grow, contrasting with the daunting side effects of some treatments lead to the belief that diagnosis is not so urgent and screening can be delayed.
However, there is another option. Whether or not you choose to receive treatment immediately if diagnosed, you can still talk to your doctor about possible scenarios for you. If you do get diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, there is the rut of ‘watchful waiting’ or ‘active surveillance’ as some medical professionals call it. It means that you and your doctor keep an eye on the tumor and talk about treatment options if it starts showing signs of growth.
Whatever you choose to do – act immediately or adopt the wait-and-see approach, we believe you should stay on top of your health and schedule regular screenings for the most life-threatening disease men get diagnosed with. Suffering in silence and ignoring signs of deteriorating health does not make you more of a man, neither is seeking help akin to showing weakness.
If you do get diagnosed with prostate cancer and treatment options currently available to you make you reconsider seeking medical attention for fear of severe side-effects, know that clinical trials might be an alternative. Your doctor should be able to help you look into recruiting clinical research studies that fit your requirements or you could search on your own here, on the FindMeCure website. Medical research is continuously trying to fine-tune treatments and provide patients with better, safer options.