Prostate health is a topic every man should discuss with his primary care provider. Nine out of 10 men will experience urinary problems due to an enlarged prostate, and nearly 200,000 are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year.
Bilawal Ahmed, MD, a medical oncologist at Regional One Health, said protecting your health starts with proper screening.
“As men age, they often have difficulty starting urination, weak flow, and frequent urination. It’s usually due to benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, which is not cancerous,” he said. “However, these symptoms can indicate prostate cancer, which is why you need an evaluation.”
Screening is also crucial because many patients don’t experience urinary problems, or symptoms like worsening, unrelieved back pain, or blood in the urine, until prostate cancer is advanced and harder to treat.
“When prostate cancer is diagnosed later and has spread to other parts of the body, it cannot be cured, although patients can still live for many years thanks to new therapies,” Dr. Ahmed said. “If it is caught early and hasn’t spread, the prognosis is excellent. It can usually be cured using surgery or radiation.”
Dr. Ahmed said your screening needs are based on your risk factors.
Getting older is the biggest one, and African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews are at higher risk. Family history also plays a role.
One thing that does not increase risk is having a vasectomy: “A lot of patients ask about that,” Dr. Ahmed said. “It’s important that men know having a vasectomy is not linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer.”
He said average-risk patients can start screening at age 50, and those at higher risk should start at age 45. Men with a close relative diagnosed before age 55 should start at 40 because their cancer could have a genetic component. They should have genetic counseling as part of their care.
Screening is easy. Doctors check ProstateSpecific Antigen (PSA) levels via a blood draw. Based on the findings, patients are then screened yearly or every two years.
If screening indicates cancer, a biopsy is needed to determine a specific diagnosis and treatment.
Dr. Ahmed noted if cancer is confined to the prostate, minimally invasive surgery or radiation are both highly effective at curing the disease. Patients may also need hormonal injections for six months to two years to keep the cancer from returning.
If prostate cancer has spread to the bones, liver, or elsewhere, it is not considered curable. However, medical oncologists like
Dr. Ahmed can use chemotherapy and hormonal pills to kill cancer cells and stop additional spread. Dr. Ahmed urged patients to remember successful treatment starts with screening.
While early screening can lead to false positives, he said, it has caused a sharp decline in prostate cancer deaths: “It’s a balance. Talk to your doctor about the risks versus benefits so you can decide the best time to start.”
For an appointment at Regional One Health, call 901.545.6262.
By Bilawal Ahmed, MD