Prostate Cancer Very Treatable If Diagnosed Early
by TERESA SCHIFFER
Prostate cancer is among the most common types of cancer found in men (second only to non-melanoma skin cancer), and the second-leading cause of cancer death among men in the U.S., claiming over 34,000 lives each year nationwide. Though this may seem grim, it’s not as bad as it seems; while approximately one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes, the five- and 10-year survival rates are 98 percent.
Most prostate cancers are diagnosed at the local or regional stage, when the disease is found only in the prostate and possibly other nearby organs. When this is the case, the five-year survival rate is almost 100 percent. The disease rarely occurs in individuals younger than 40, with about 60 percent of prostate cancer cases diagnosed in patients age 65 and older.
Dr. Kenneth Essig is a board-certified urologist with BayCare Medical Group who frequently treats patients diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“Prostate cancer, when diagnosed early, is very treatable,” Essig explains.
The key is knowing what your risk is in order to receive a timely diagnosis that will result in a favorable outcome.
“Family history is probably the most significant risk factor, and some genetic predispositions favor a diagnosis of prostate cancer,” Essig says. “Those are the strongest links to a likelihood of prostate cancer.”
Because having a father, brother, or uncle with prostate cancer indicates a greater probability of an individual also being affected, it is advisable to have genetic screening performed to assess the potential risk of developing the disease. However, men can have an increased risk without having had any close relatives diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“Even without that family history,” Essig explains, “if you have a genetic variant, then you could be predisposed to not only having prostate cancer, but you could also have a more aggressive form.”
It is rare for men younger than 40 to develop prostate cancer, but the risk does increase with age. “In general, as we get older, our risk increases. So every decade of life it increases more and more,” he says. “Once we get into our 60s and 70s, that’s when we see more people presenting for treatment of prostate cancer.”
There are not really any physical signs or symptoms of prostate cancer that men should watch out for, either. The best way to catch prostate cancer early is with a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test performed annually. It is recommended that men get a prostate exam every year from the age of 50 up to 70. This age bracket is suggested because the prevalence of prostate cancer in men younger than 50 is quite low, and the disease tends to have a very slow progression, so beyond the age of 70 it is unlikely to have a serious impact on lifespan or quality of life.
Some men do have trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate, but this does not necessarily indicate that cancer is the cause. In these cases, it is up to the individual to follow up with a urologist for an examination to rule out the possibility of prostate cancer and receive appropriate treatment.
If a PSA blood test shows that there is a possibility of cancer being present, a biopsy is performed to confirm whether or not this is the case. Sometimes, there is cause to avoid doing a biopsy, in which case an MRI or a more sophisticated form of PSA test may be administered. Ultimately though, a biopsy is the only way to definitively determine whether a patient has prostate cancer.
Once a patient has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the first primary treatment is to simply keep a close eye on the results of subsequent exams. If there are no major changes detected, then it is unlikely the patient will need further treatment. This is sufficient for well over half of those diagnosed with prostate cancer. For the minority who do need additional therapy, radiation or surgery is generally prescribed.
“The prevalence of prostate cancer is very high,” says Essig.
“There are many, many men who are walking around now who have a small area of prostate cancer in their bodies, and that will be there for 10, 20, 30 years, and they’ll never even know it. It just happens to be there and it doesn’t pose a threat to their lives. Prostate cancer is not synonymous with a death sentence or disability in the majority of people who have it. It is a very common thing to have prostate cancer – it is a less common thing to have it affect your life.”