Prostate Cancer: A Threat to Men as They Age
September is prostate cancer awareness month, and the National Prostate Cancer Coalition says these are the ten things everyone should know about the disease:
- One in every six men will get prostate cancer. Over 218,890 new cases are expected in 2007, more than breast cancer.
- The chances of getting prostate cancer are one in three if you have one close relative (father or brother) with it. The risk goes to 83 percent if two close relatives have it and to 97 percent if three do.
- African-American men have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world: one in four. They are 2.5 times more likely to die of it than Caucasian men.
- Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men in the U.S. (about 27,000 will die this year).
- Prostate cancer has no noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Thus, screening is critical.
- Every man over 50 should be screened annually. African-American men or those with a family history of the disease should begin annual screening at age 40.
- With the widespread use of PSA screening, nine out of ten prostate cancers are detected early.
- Nearly all men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer in its early stages are still alive five years later, but only a third of those diagnosed in late stages survive for five years.
- Screening involves a simple blood test and physical exam. It takes about ten minutes and is usually covered by health insurance.
- Obesity is a significant predictor of prostate cancer severity. Also, high cholesterol levels are associated with advanced prostate cancer.
The best protection against prostate cancer is a healthy lifestyle. Avoiding excessive weight gain, keeping cholesterol low, getting plenty of physical exercise and quitting smoking are all important. No studies show that sex increases the risk of prostate cancer.
Though the reasons and appropriate amounts are largely unknown, a number of specific foods and drinks appear to be associated with reduced risk of prostate cancer, according to the National Prostate Cancer Coalition. Among these are soy products, fish oil, mushrooms, fruit, vitamin E, green tea, red wine, broccoli and cabbage. Diets high in red meat, sweets and dairy products may increase the risk. The American Cancer Society makes similar recommendations.
Research continues into why and how dietary factors influence prostate cancer development. Because most of the associations are not yet well-explained and because the cancer shows no symptoms in its early stages, general progress in improving a man’s lifestyle is the best protection against prostate cancer. In addition, to ensure early detection if the cancer does develop, PSA testing is recommended after age 50 or, if at high risk, at age 40 to 45.
Men should be aware that the science of prostate cancer is in a period of rapid development. PSA testing, itself, is a relatively recent technology that is undergoing continual development. Because individual PSA levels vary, once a man reaches the recommended age, he should establish his “baseline” PSA so that subsequent tests can note the extent of any changes. If a spike occurs, the doctor can order a biopsy or may opt to order other new tests that may be even better predictors than the biopsy.
When prostate cancer is diagnosed, patients are presented with two treatment options: active surveillance or more aggressive therapy.
Many factors – including the progression of the disease at the time of discovery, characteristics of the particular tumor, the age of the patient and the side effects of surgery or radiation – must be taken into account. Because each situation is unique, men should consult closely with their doctor, get multiple medical opinions, study the options, evaluate treatment facilities and reach a decision in consultation with their families and loved ones.
The LHSFNA publishes a pamphlet, What Laborers Should Know about Prostate Cancer and an 18-page manual called Prostate Cancer Awareness. These are available through its online catalogue.