By Dr. Patricia Knott
A few years ago my father became quite disturbed about his health. Someone he knew was diagnosed with prostate cancer and he was sure that he had it, too. He never explained how he was certain that he, too, had the disease, but I suspect that he had compared some symptoms with his unfortunate friend. It turns out that he did have prostate cancer and was able to undergo surgery.
Most of the health issues facing men are preventable, but this prevention is hampered by certain tendencies of the male gender-men don't tend to see their physician for checkup of symptoms as often as women; also, men tend to have a higher level of smoking and consumption of alcohol than women.
Type 2 diabetes, flu, suicide, kidney disease, and Alzheimer's disease round out the top ten health issues facing men.
The prostate is a gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It surrounds a portion of the urethra, the tubular passageway for emptying the bladder of urine.
Prostate cancer is diagnosed in more than 200,000 men each year. This type of cancer tends to grow slowly in most men, and those with low grade cancer can live a long time after being diagnosed with the disease, yet over 28,000 men died of this cancer in 2008.
Most men diagnosed with this cancer are over 65 years of age. It is rare under the age of 45. African American men are at greater risk than Whites or Hispanics.
Genetic factors are explored as a cause of prostate cancer. Risk is higher with a history of close relatives with the disease.
Research is being done to look at other possible risk factors for prostate cancer. Most studies have shown no increased risks with vasectomies. Certain drugs may help prevent the disease, such as selenium and vitamin E, but these studies are only in the research phase.
Prostate cancer can only be confirmed by biopsy, but there are screening tests, the digital rectal exam (DRE), or the blood test for elevated PSA (prostate specific antigen).
After cancer has been confirmed, further tests could involve blood work or imaging studies such as bone scan, CT scan, or MRI to help grade and stage the cancer. The grade of the tumor is how closely the tumor resembles normal prostate tissue. The higher the grade, the quicker the growth of the tumor and the more likely it is to spread. The stage (I-IV) of the tumor tells if the cancer is contained or has metastasized.
Risk factors such as family history, age, and race are beyond one's control, but there are some common sense prevention tips to reduce your risk of the top health issues:
â€¢ Don't smoke (cigarettes), chew (tobacco), or dip (snuff) and avoid secondhand smoke.
â€¢ Decrease the fat and sodium in your diet and eat more vegetables, fruit, fish, and fiber.
â€¢ Treat hypertension or high cholesterol.
â€¢ Develop a daily routine of exercise.
â€¢ Drink alcohol in moderation and don't drive under the influence.
â€¢ Decrease excess weight.
â€¢ Manage your blood sugars well if you are a diabetic.
â€¢ Avoid carcinogens.
â€¢ When driving, wear seatbelts and obey the speed limit.
â€¢ Get regular checkups and don't ignore warning signs dealing with your health.
According to the Mayo Clinic staff, the top health issues for men include:
1) Cardiac disease
2) Cancer-lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer, followed by prostate cancer, and colon cancer.
3) Injuries-motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of fatal accidents for men, followed by falls and poisoning.
5) Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as emphysema, asthma, and bronchitis.
Symptoms of prostate cancer
Symptoms may not be apparent early in the disease and the symptoms can mimic those of other conditions, especially prostatitis or benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). You should seek advice from your physician if you experience any of the following:
â€¢ Urinary symptoms
â€¢ Inability to urinate
â€¢ Weak flow of urine
â€¢ Interrupted urine flow
â€¢ Pain or burning with urination
â€¢ Urinating frequently
â€¢ Blood in the urine or semen
â€¢ Difficulty having an erection
â€¢ Pain in lower back, hips, or pelvis
Standard treatments for prostate cancer include
â€¢ Watchful waiting-providing no treatment until symptoms appear or change
â€¢ Radical prostatectomy-surgical removal of the prostate, surrounding tissue, and seminal vesicles
â€¢ Radical lymphadenectomy-surgical removal of lymph nodes
â€¢ Radiation therapy-uses x-rays or other radiation to kill cancer cells
â€¢ Hormone therapy-removes male hormones or blocks their action since they can cause prostate cancer to grow
The choice of treatment will depend on the grade and stage of the tumor as well as age and health of the patient. The man with prostate cancer should discuss side effects and benefits of treatment with his physician.
My father was not hesitant to seek help when he noticed certain symptoms. He was diagnosed and treated in a timely manner. Prostate cancer can be detected early and can give men an opportunity to explore options with great success.