7 Prostate Cancer Facts Absolutely All Men Need to Know
There’s no denying how important it is to raise awareness about breast cancer, so it makes complete sense that we give so much attention to the disease every October. What makes a little less sense is why so few people know prostate cancer, which runs rampant among men, has it’s own awareness month in September. Even initiatives like Movember group it in with other men’s health issues, including testicular cancer and mental health.
Since prostate cancer is so prevalent, it really deserves some stand-alone attention. For this reason, it’s time we shared these seven must-know facts about the disease.
1. It’s one of the most common cancers among men
To be more specific, prostate cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer (excluding skin cancer) among men in the U.S. If you’re looking for the numerical breakdown, note the American Cancer Society says about one out of every seven men will get prostate cancer at some point during his life. The story also points out risk increases with age, so it’s important to continue routine screenings as time passes.
Though this all sounds very gloomy, that really isn’t the case. In fact, the ACS reports a 15-year survival rate of 95%. When you consider how glum the outlook is for other types, this is really encouraging news.
2. Only the rarest kinds are extremely aggressive
Though there are five different types of prostate cancer — prostatic adenocarcinoma, small cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, prostatic sarcoma, and transitional cell carcinoma — most cases aren’t particularly aggressive. According to the Cancer Research Society, between 90% and 95% of all diagnoses are prostatic adenocarcinoma, which typically progresses at a very slow rate.
Not all irregularities are cancer, either. You’ve probably heard of an enlarged prostate, also called benign prostatic hyperplasia, which is a non-cancerous tumor. Though it can require surgery in some cases, it’s really quite common and often easy to manage. Harvard Health Publications mentions a few lifestyle changes that can likely help relieve any symptoms.
3. Young men aren’t immune
Though we typically think of prostate cancer as a disease affecting older men, this isn’t always the case. The Prostate Cancer Foundation reports men younger than 65 account for 35% of all prostate cancer diagnoses. It can even strike when males are still very young. For example, one case study published in the Indian Journal of Palliative Care involved a 28-year-old man with prostatic adenocarcinoma. Though the authors say this is typically rare, they acknowledge doctors really can’t rule out the possibility of young patients developing prostate cancer.
4. You might not notice symptoms
We already touched a little bit on how the most common type of prostate cancer progresses very slowly, but it’s probably even slower than you’d expect. Healthline says it can take years for a man to notice any symptoms, which can include trouble urinating, pelvic discomfort, and swollen legs. And some cases are never even diagnosed. Why? As the ACS explains, some men die of other causes before they notice any ill effects. This just goes to show cancer is not always a death sentence.
5. There are a few screening options
Like with many types of cancer, there’s more than one way to screen for prostate cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a digital rectal exam and a prostate-specific antigen test are the most common methods used. The former involves the doctor inserting a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for lumps or other abnormalities. The latter method is a blood test that measures prostate-specific antigen levels (thus the name). A high number could mean prostate cancer.
If a doctor suspects cancer, Mayo Clinic says he or she will typically order an ultrasound or biopsy in order to make a diagnosis. It might sound like a frustrating extra step, but the first two tests we mentioned are just screenings. They could reveal an enlarged prostate, but that doesn’t mean it’s cancerous.
6. Active treatment isn’t always the best option
A lot of us have a tendency to act hastily when we hear about a medical problem, but this method isn’t always best for those diagnosed with prostate cancer. In fact, the ACS says some doctors recommend closely monitoring the cancer rather than using one of the more conventional methods. Some research even suggests mortality rates for prostate cancer patients who choose monitoring are the same as those who opt for other treatments.
What exactly such monitoring entails can vary depending on the patient as well as the physician, though, so any man given this option as a recommended course of action should be prepared to ask plenty of questions to know what to expect. Though it really depends on the case, this isn’t typically recommended for young men.
When a more rigorous approach to treatment is recommended, a combination of surgery and radiation therapy is the most common method. That being said, the Prostate Cancer Foundation highlights a number of other options. Just as with the monitoring method, it’s important to come to the table with questions in order to determine the best course of action.
7. It can be difficult to manage side effects from treatment
Battling any type of cancer can be a huge feat, so it’s pretty common for those undergoing treatment to feel pretty wiped out. Pain is, unfortunately, also rather common. Mayo Clinic highlights a number of these side effects, saying many of them gradually improve after treatment has ended.
Research is finding that isn’t the extent of it, though. Some studies have taken a long-term look at how men are impacted years after prostate cancer treatment, showing there are some lasting problems. One example published in The New England Journal of Medicine followed 1,655 men who had received prostate cancer treatment for a total of 15 years, surveying them about urinary incontinence, bowel function, and sexual function. Each of these physical functions diminished over the 15-year period.
This sounds pretty bleak, but consider it a way to make informed decisions about treatment. This means a patient given the option to actively monitor the cancer may want to go that route in order to avoid the potential downfalls of more rigorous treatment. At the very least, it should encourage any man facing prostate cancer to have ongoing discussions with his physician.
Sarah Kaye Santos also contributed to this story.