In support of June’s “Men’s Health Month,” many news sources have published articles highlighting some of the health issues specific to men. A UK news source recently recounted a story about a man who had symptoms of prostate cancer, but didn’t seek testing or treatment because they were mild and could be attributed to things other than the development of cancer. A discussion with a friend, whose husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer after having the same symptoms, convinced him to finally see his doctor. It was then that he was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of the disease.
In the end this man was successfully treated, opting to have his prostate removed via robotic surgery. However, the story highlights one of the most frightening aspects about prostate cancer: there are virtually no symptoms early in the development of this disease. Furthermore, even when it has progressed, symptoms can seem mild in comparison to other serious diseases. Prostate cancer will affect one out of six men in their lifetime. Despite the increasing number of younger men being diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer, age continues to play a large factor in the development of the disease. As it progresses, symptoms can include difficulty urinating or frequent need to urinate, especially during the night. Many older men may consider this a consequence of growing older and pay no mind to the fact that this is not normal. These symptoms can also be attributed to benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate that occurs in up to half of men by age 50, and 80-90% of men by age 80.
BPH is often not serious, and is highly treatable with both medications and minimally invasive surgery. The symptoms associated with BPH, as mild as they may seem, can indicate the presence of prostate cancer however, which is a very serious and life-threatening condition. Often, men only seek treatment when they have reached a point of extreme pain or discomfort. This typically does not happen with prostate cancer until it has reached a stage where it has metastasized (spread to other organs in the body), rendering it nearly impossible to treat. Had the man in this article waited any longer to seek his prostate cancer treatment, he very well may not be with us today.
One thing we have to keep in mind is that we shouldn’t wait for symptoms to appear in order to diagnose and treat prostate cancer. All men over the age of 50 should be having a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test and digital rectal exam as part of their annual physical. For men with risk factors, such as a family history of the disease, these tests should be started at 40. Through monitoring PSA levels we can identify those men who are at risk for the development of the disease. If an elevated PSA level is found, a biopsy can be done to confirm the presence of cancer. For men who have not yet started their PSA screening but are experiencing difficulties urinating, a constant feeling of a need to urinate, the feeling that you can’t fully empty your bladder, or blood in your urine: please see your doctor immediately. These may simply be signs of BPH, but also of prostate cancer. It’s best not to leave your health up to chance.