Did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five African American men will develop prostate cancer at some point during their lives? Although the rates of prostate cancer diagnosis in African American men has declined in recent years, AA men are still significantly more likely to be diagnosed with the disease compared to white, Latino and American Indian men. With these grim statistics, it is essential for black men to learn about prostate cancer so they can make appropriate health decisions.
What is Prostate Cancer, and how is it detected?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that lies just below the bladder and produces seminal fluid (the fluid that carries sperm). Prostate cancer forms when cells in the prostate continue to divide unchecked by the body’s normal regulatory mechanisms, producing a mass of abnormal cells called a tumor. These abnormal cells can travel to other parts of the body (called metastasis) and lead to death.
What are the risks for Prostate Cancer?
Risk factors for prostate cancer include:
Age – the chance of developing prostate cancer increases after age 50;
Family history – having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk;
High fat diet – a diet with an abundance of meat, high-fat foods and limited fruits and vegetables appears to confer a slightly higher risk; and
Race – prostate cancer occurs more often in African American men.
Many men experience no symptoms initially; if they do occur, symptoms may include urinating frequently at night, having blood in the urine, difficulty urinating, or experiencing sexual dysfunction. These symptoms may also indicate other disorders, so it is important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing them.
Prostate cancer screening is two-pronged, involving (1) a digital rectal exam, or DRE, and (2) prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. According to the American Cancer Society, health care providers should offer both PSA and DRE tests annually to all men over age 50. For those at high risk (including African American men), testing may be recommended as early as age 40 – 45 years. You should talk to your health care provider about your risk and the appropriate screening process for you. Even after a decision about testing has been made, the discussion about the pros and cons of testing should be repeated as new information about the benefits and risks of testing becomes available. Further discussions are also needed to take into account changes in the patient’s health, values, and preferences.
What are the latest treatment options for prostate cancer?
No two cancer cases are exactly the same; therefore, treatment will vary from person to person. In early-stage prostate cancer—that is, cancer that has not spread beyond the prostate—there are several treatment options. These options include:
Watchful waiting: Physicians monitor prostate cancer and treat it only if it begins to cause symptoms or shows signs of growing. During the monitoring phase, PSA tests and DREs may be performed regularly.
Radical prostatectomy: Radical prostatectomy is a surgical procedure in which the prostate is removed, along with some surrounding tissue and the seminal vesicles.
Pelvic lymphadenectomy: This surgical procedure involves removing the lymph nodes in the pelvis; it can help determine whether the cancer has spread.
Transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP): In TURP, the physician removes tissue from the prostate through the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body).
External radiation therapy: This therapy uses x-rays or other types of radiation to destroy cancer cells by directing radiation at the prostate from an outside source.
Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy): Internal radiation therapy involves placing small radioactive pellets inside or near the cancer to destroy cancer cells.
Hormone therapy: Certain hormones can be given to block the growth of prostate cancer cells.
Cryotherapy: This new treatment is currently being investigated in clinical trials. It involves placing a special probe inside or near the prostate cancer to freeze and destroy the cancer cells.
Chemotherapy: In chemotherapy, or “chemo,” certain drugs are taken orally or injected into the body to either kill the cancer cells or stop them from dividing.
Biologic therapy: This treatment involves boosting the individual’s own immune system to help fight the cancer.
High-intensity focused ultrasound: Ultrasound (high-energy sound waves) can be used to destroy the cancer cells.
Of course, if prostate cancer metastasizes it becomes much more difficult to treat. Metastatic prostate cancer is one of the most deadly cancers in men, second only to lung cancer. Men diagnosed with prostate cancer should discuss treatment options with their physician to determine the best course of action for their individual needs.
For more information about the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, visit our website at HYPERLINK “http://www.wakehealth.edu/MACHE” http://www.wakehealth.edu/MACHE. Or, for health information call toll-free 877-530-1824.