Living Well: Calling all men — learn how to recognize, prevent prostate cancer

Online resources for coping with prostate cancer

American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org

National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov

Prostate Cancer Foundation: www.pcf.org

Prostate Cancer Research Institute: www.prostate-cancer.org

Urology Care Foundation: www.urologyhealth.org

— In honor of National Prostate Cancer Awareness month, how about gaining some insights into the signs, symptoms and causes of prostate cancer? Better yet, read on to learn ways to prevent it.

As you probably know, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and is the second leading cause of death from all cancers in the United States. In fact, half of men in their 80s have prostate cancer. While this may sound scary, the good news is that prostate cancer usually is slow growing and, if caught early on, can be treated and stopped.

“Early detection is the key with any cancer. Prostate cancer is regarded as one of the most curable cancers if caught early,” said Dr. Jon Hamilton, D.O., a family physician with The Memorial Hospital’s Medical Clinic.

Signs of prostate cancer

The best way to catch prostate cancer early is to know the signs. Luckily, signs are fairly obvious. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs include:

• Trouble urinating

• Decreased force in the stream of urine

• Blood in your urine or semen

• Pain in your lower back, hips or thighs

• Discomfort in the pelvic area

• Erectile dysfunction

• Elevated prostate-specific antigen test (PSA)

“You may assume your urinary symptoms are a sign of a bladder infection or a kidney problem, but get it checked out. This can be especially true for younger men. While most cases of prostate cancer occur in men over 50, I have seen younger men with prostate cancer. Don’t ignore the symptoms at any age. If you have difficulty starting a urine stream, have weak flow or have to go frequently, especially at night, get it checked out,” Hamilton said.

Trouble urinating might simply indicate that your prostate is enlarged. Having an enlarged prostate is not a sign of prostate cancer nor does it increase your risk of getting it. Yet it does put pressure on the urethra and can cause complications.

Annual prostate screenings

Some men avoid going to the doctor for annual checkups. Yet Hamilton thinks prostate screenings work, especially for men ages 50 to 69. Recently, the formal recommendation for prostate screenings has changed. The U.S. Preventative Task Force on Health now says annual prostate screenings are not advised across the board and rather are an item to be discussed and decided between a patient and doctor on an individual basis.

“The consensus between the American Cancer Society and the American College of Physicians is that men between ages 50 and 69 should review the pros and cons of having their prostate evaluated with their doctor,” Hamilton said.

During a prostate screening, the doctor will test your PSA level, which measures a protein produced by the prostate gland. The higher the number, the greater chance you might have prostate cancer. (You should know that not all elevated PSAs point to cancer — some are caused by infections.) Then, a physical exam is completed, including a digital rectal exam to check the health of the prostate.

“If you do have a high PSA, sit down and visit with your physician so you can make an informed decision on what to do next,” Hamilton said.

Preventing prostate cancer

Some risk factors for prostate cancer can’t be prevented, such as genetics and race.

“While one in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at some time in their lives, that number increases to one in three for African-Americans. Also, if you have a first-degree relative who had prostate cancer — a dad or brother — your risk is doubled or tripled,” Hamilton said.

Yet there are things you can do to prevent prostate cancer, and cancer in general. Did you know that exercising three hours each week has been shown to greatly reduce your cancer risk overall? Eating well has similar results.

“Live a healthy lifestyle: Eat well, watch your weight as risk increases with obesity and exercise frequently. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, you’ll decrease your risk for prostate cancer and cover other bases, as well,” Hamilton said.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.

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