This month our medical contributing writer, D. Patterson, MPH, talks to us about Prostate cancer and the many myths.
Jamaica Magazine

The Basics for Men: Prostate Cancer

“I don’t want to know if I have it.” Maybe you have said this yourself or heard your father or brother saying this. But what you don’t know can hurt you!

Many men fear being diagnosed with prostate cancer more than anything else – and it is with good reason. In 1999, prostate cancer was the number one cause of cancer deaths in Jamaican men. *

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that is a part of the male reproductive system. It contains cells that produce a fluid that mixes with sperm and other fluids during ejaculation. When these cells become malignant or cancerous, the condition is known as prostate cancer.

Who’s at Risk for Prostate Cancer?

The exact cause of prostate cancer is still not known. However, several factors were found to increase the risk of getting prostate cancer.

Age: Age is one of the biggest risk factors for prostate cancer. The chance of having this condition increases significantly after the age of fifty, although younger men can also get it.

Race/Ethnicity: Black men are at a higher risk for prostate cancer than white men.

Family History:Having a father or brother with prostate cancer puts you at a higher risk for this disease than men who do not have a family history.

Diet:Although there is still no conclusive evidence that diet is directly associated with the development of prostate cancer, many experts feel that a diet high in fat may increase prostate cancer risk.

Possible Signs and Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer may not produce any symptoms in its early stages. (Early stage prostate cancer can be found by PSA and DRE testing – see below). If symptoms occur, they may include :

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • A weak stream of urine
  • Blood in the urine

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

How is Prostate Cancer Detected?

To check for prostate cancer, your doctor may use the following two techniques:

Digital Rectal Exam (DRE): Your doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum and feels the surface of the prostate for any irregularities. If there are any hard spots on the prostate, your doctor may suspect cancer. The thought of having this exam may sound uncomfortable and embarrassing to some men. Remember: There’s nothing embarrassing about being proactive about your health!

Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test: This is a simple blood test that measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen in the blood. PSA is a protein found in men’s blood when there is abnormal activity in the prostate. Men with prostate cancer may have higher levels of PSA in their blood. (PSA levels can also be high due to infection or other conditions).

If caught early, prostate cancer can be cured.

Treating Prostate Cancer

The treatment for prostate cancer depends on several factors — the size and how aggressive the tumor is, whether or not it has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body), PSA level, overall medical condition and age. Surgery, radiation and watchful waiting (which is not technically a treatment, but an observation without active treatment) are most common treatments for prostate cancer. When the cancer is advanced, your doctor may recommend radiation, hormonal therapy, or other treatment methods.

These treatments can cause side effects. Speak to your doctor about what side effects may occur.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor any questions you may have. Some questions you may want to ask include :

What stage am I in?

  • Has the cancer spread to any other parts of my body? And if so, where?
  • What are my treatment choices?
  • What are the pros and cons of each treatment?
  • Is there anything I can do to help myself?

Myths & Facts:
Myth: It’s an old man’s disease
Fact: While the average man diagnosed with prostate cancer is over 65, a significant number of men in their 40’s and 50’s are being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Myth:It’s better not to know that you have prostate cancer
Fact: It is never better not to know that you have a disease that is potentially life threatening. There are many treatment options available. Early detection and treatment may indeed save your life.

Resources:

* Figures for prostate cancer in Jamaica were not available after 1999.

About the author

Deidre Patterson, MPH