September is prostate cancer awareness month. This is very important because prostate cancer is prevalent among men as we age. It has no symptoms in early stages. What is the good news? Screenings and early diagnosis are extremely useful. If it is caught early, prostate cancer is treatable and can often have a favorable prognosis.
How do you catch it early? Men often report that an elevated "Prostate Specific Antigen" (PSA) blood test led to the diagnosis. Some feel that this simple test saved their lives.
There are many varieties of prostate cancer. It may be very slow growing and needs to be monitored rather than treated. Or it can have various degrees of aggressiveness. A biopsy is needed to determine what type. In some cases, genomics tests may be useful to understand its cause and aggressiveness. Imaging may be useful to see if it has spread and which treatment options can be effective.
Side effects (from both the disease and treatments) can have a big impact on your Quality of Life. This can impact your marriage and financial security.
So, early detection is critical. It leads to both better oncologic control and fewer side effects.
What I Want You to Do
- I'd urge you to consider visiting a doctor to see if a PSA or other test is warranted.
- I understand Guidelines, generally speaking, suggest that men starting at age 55 get a PSA test. But if cancer (including breast and certain other cancers) runs in the family, screening might start earlier ... say at age 40. Similarly, African American men might consider early screening. Also, community PSA screenings may be available. They are free and take just a few minutes (and no "finger test" is required).
- Do you want to be in the driver's seat? If so, do your homework. This helps you identify specific questions for your doctor and make shared decisions with your doctor. I've known men who spend a great deal of time researching which new car to buy ... but spend less time on life-altering cancer decisions!
- Last but not least, consider lifestyle changes including healthy diet and exercise.
I was "lucky" and detected it early. So, I was able to identify good treatment options and excellent doctors.
I understand many men may feel like they don't have time (or perhaps inclination?) to see doctors. Nonetheless, I'd encourage you to put screening near the top of your priorities in September!
About the Author
John Fortin is a prostate cancer survivor and advocate. He is a retired Fellow in the Society of Actuaries, so he specializes in healthcare data analytics including prostate cancer. Currently, he serves as Patient Advocate Liaison to the AUA Public Policy Council. Also, he co-hosts a prostate cancer support group in Atlanta, is a part-time journalist for UroToday, and serves on a national Active Surveillance working group.