Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among American men.
Research in the past 25 years has revealed more than 29 variations of this serious disease. Yet it remains one of the least talked-about cancers, with an aura of embarrassment and shame surrounding it. This causes a great deal of confusion, with many myths and misconceptions that can interfere with men getting the timely screenings, diagnoses, and treatments they need.
Prostate cancer, like most other cancers, is curable if detected and treated in time. The first step is knowing the facts and eliminating confusion.
Myth: It’s an Old Man’s Disease
Fact: The disease most commonly occurs in men aged 66 and older. When it develops in younger men, it is often aggressive and deadly. About 35 percent of all cases are diagnosed in men who are between 40 and 59 years old. Other risks are the race (African-American men have a higher risk), family history (which doubles or triples your risk), physical health, lifestyle, and geographic location.
Myth: High PSA = Prostate Cancer
Fact: The PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test screens for prostate cancer by measuring the amount of PSA substance in the blood.
A low number – 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less—is considered good, suggesting the absence of prostate cancer. But PSA can be diluted in overweight or obese men due to the larger blood volume. If other factors exist, a biopsy may be indicated at lower numbers. PSA velocity over multiple PSA tests is a more precise measure.
But a higher PSA does not automatically mean prostate cancer. Other factors are PSA-benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or an enlarged prostate, a urinary tract infection, infection or inflammation, age, and recent ejaculation. If a man’s PSA is elevated, your doctor investigates further.
Myth: Needle Biopsies Damage the Prostate
Fact: Biopsy is the most common method to diagnose prostate cancer. In the right hands, and with the right preparation, a prostate needle biopsy causes no harm and has a low risk of infection or other urinary complications.
Myth: No Family History = No Risk
Fact: A man’s risk of prostate cancer doubles if a first-degree relative (father or brother) had prostate cancer. It increases if the family member was under 55 years, or if three or more family members had the disease.
Research shows that one out of every six men in the US will get prostate cancer. African-American men are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 2.4 times more likely to die from it.
Family history does not play a role in every case.
Myth: No Symptoms = No Prostate Cancer
Fact: Prostate cancer is often asymptomatic. Not everyone experiences symptoms, and these can vary in different men. Often it’s mistaken for other diseases.
Common symptoms are urination and ejaculation abnormalities, discomfort, and pain. Frequent pain and stiffness may also occur in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs. Men experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
Myth: It is Contagious
Fact: A common myth is that surgery can or might spread cancer. Prostate cancer is not infectious nor communicable. There is no chance for you to “pass it on” or contract it from someone else.
Myth: Sex Increases the Risk of Prostate Cancer
Fact: This old chestnut has been debunked by research. Contrary to those claims, frequent ejaculation – up to 21 times a month or more – actually appears to lower the risk of prostate cancer.
The theory is that the prostate accumulates carcinogens or other harmful substances from the body, which are eliminated during ejaculation.
Ejaculation itself has not been linked to prostate cancer.
Myth: It’s Slow-Growing and Not Dangerous
Fact: Prostate cancer can be slow-growing – but it can also be aggressive and quick to spread or metastasize. Its presence and nature can only be determined by a biopsy.
Myth: Surgery and Radiation are the Only Treatment Options
Fact: Treatment recommendations are based on many factors, including age and health status, and are different for each patient.
Since prostate cancer can take many forms – aggressive or slow-growing – there are options for immediate surgery and radiation therapies. Factors considered include treatment needs, family genetics, personal circumstances, and risk levels.
Men with the most common, early stage, low-risk, slow-growing tumors can safely undergo active surveillance, where they are tested and monitored without immediate treatment while preserving their chances at long-term survival. Of course, any changes in the situation may call for treatment.
Other options include HIFU (high-intensity focal ultrasound), cryoablation, and immunotherapy.
A doctor may decide not to treat this disease if there are other health issues and the patient is elderly. In elderly patients, prostate cancer treatment may not increase the lifespan and might cause other health complications.
Myth: Treatment Causes Impotence or Urinary Incontinence
Fact: While impotence, erectile dysfunction, or urinary incontinence can be a side effect of surgery and radiation, it is not a given. It depends on age and physical condition at the time of diagnosis and treatment. Numerous therapies and aids can improve erectile function and limit incontinence.
Myth: Vasectomies Cause Prostate Cancer
Fact: Vasectomies do not increase the risk of prostate cancer and are not linked to its development. In fact, vasectomies present the opportunity to check prostates more frequently and have led to early detection and treatment.
If you are in the area of Mesa, Arizona, and need to consult with a urologist about prostate cancer treatments, call the office of Urologic Surgeons of Arizona at (480) 409-5060 to schedule an appointment, or request an appointment online.