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Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, second only to skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1 in 9 U.S. men are diagnosed every year. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help. Arm yourself with these prostate cancer facts to ensure that you are prepared.
What Is Prostate Cancer?
The prostate gland is a male reproductive gland located in the lower abdomen that produces seminal fluid. It is about the size of a golfball in younger men, but once men pass 40 years of age, the gland typically starts to grow.
Prostate cancer occurs when an abnormal growth of cells (known as a tumor) forms in the prostate. Cancer can then spread to other areas of the body, but it continues being called prostate cancer because of its origin.
Prostate cancer is typically categorized by the speed with which it spreads. In aggressive prostate cancer, the tumor develops and grows quickly, and cancer then spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes and bones. Conversely, with nonaggressive prostate cancer, the tumor either grows very slowly or doesn’t grow at all.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Certain factors increase your risk of getting prostate cancer. Risk factors include:
- Age (men 65 and older are at highest risk)
- Family history of the disease (especially first-degree relatives)
- Certain ethnicities (African-American men are at greatest risk)
- Weight (obese men are at increased risk)
- Geographic location (men living in disadvantaged or rural areas are at greater risk)
What Are the Symptoms?
While there are often no symptoms with nonaggressive prostate cancer, symptoms can occur with the aggressive form of this cancer. One common symptom is urinary issues because of the prostate’s location beneath the bladder and around the urethra. If a tumor develops on the prostate, it can put pressure on the bladder or urethra, and when this happens, there is often a frequent urge to urinate, a weak stream of urine, and possibly bleeding while urinating. Urinary problems like these are often the first signs of prostate cancer.
Another symptom is problems that are sexual in nature. For example, erectile dysfunction can occur. Also, in cases in which intercourse is possible, prostate cancer can cause blood in the semen. Additionally, when cancer spreads to other parts of the body, the person can experience pain in the pelvic region, lower back, hips, upper thighs, or chest. In severe cases in which cancer has metastasized in the spinal cord, feeling in the legs can be lost.
What Are the Screening Recommendations?
Men who are experiencing any of the described symptoms should be screened for prostate cancer. Also, it’s recommended that men with risk factors, such as age and ethnicity, should get a prostate screening even if they don’t have symptoms. While the risk of prostate cancer is highest for men over 65 years of age, it’s recommended that annual screenings start at the age of 50 for normal men and 40 for men in high-risk groups.
Screening can be done with a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test that measures PSA levels in the bloodstream. PSA is a protein produced by the prostate, and it becomes elevated when a man develops prostate cancer. However, an elevated PSA level can also be caused by other conditions, so follow-up testing is often needed. Additional testing can include a Prostate Health Index test, a digital rectal exam, a prostate biopsy, and possibly medical imaging procedures such as a CT scan, an MRI, an ultrasound, or a bone scan.
Prostate cancer is a risk that all men need to be aware of. Because it’s the second most common cancer for men, it’s important to know your risk factors, seek help if any symptoms occur, and start having annual screenings as you age. Thankfully, when prostate cancer is diagnosed and treated early, the outlook is generally positive.
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