Prostate cancer is the silent, but deadly disease
"How do I know if I have prostate cancer?" As a urologist, I'm often asked that question. A male patient comes in with an unexplained pain or other symptoms and is worried that he might have prostate cancer. Consider two answers to how a man might know or suspect that he has prostate cancer. The first answer: pain. In some instances of severe or advanced prostate cancer, a man may experience blood in the urine, difficulty urinating, or unexplained severe bone pain. Usually these symptoms are not caused by cancer, but may be a sign of another urological condition. The better answer: no pain. Prostate cancer found early enough to be cured rarely causes any symptoms. As I tell patients, if you can feel prostate cancer, it is usually too late to cure it. While it can be controlled, it cannot be cured. Prostate cancer is a silent killer that usually gives a man no hint that it is present. Then how can you detect prostate cancer? Men in their 50s should have annual prostate screenings. In a screening, a health care provider conducts a PSA blood test and a digital rectal exam of the prostate. PSA, which stands for "prostate specific antigen," only screens for prostate cancer and no other cancers. Other cancer blood tests will not detect prostate cancer. Guidelines may vary, but I recommend annual prostate cancer screenings beginning between ages 50 and 55. If the man is in a higher risk group, such as he is African-American or has a family history of prostate cancer, he should start screenings earlier. Screening can slow down or stop around age 70 to 75. However, exact age depends on the individual and should be discussed with your primary care physician. Years ago, all men with prostate cancer received curative treatment such as surgery or radiation. Today, treatment protocols and in-depth conversations with your physician determine which patients need surgical or non-surgical treatments. Prostate cancer treatments depend on what is best for the individual patient and may include minimally invasive robotic surgery, radiation therapy, or other treatments. From extensive treatment experience, doctors have found a large percentage of patients can simply be observed and treatment isn't necessary. In summary, prostate cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in men and screening is an effective tool in detecting most prostate cancer. Men should see their doctor to determine what is best for them. Dr. Anderson is a board certified urologist with Barton Urology. He is trained in the da Vinci Surgical System and can perform minimally invasive surgical procedures. His office is currently located at the Community Health Center in South Lake Tahoe. To make an appointment with Dr. Anderson for any urologic needs, contact your primary care physician or call 530-543-5400.