Prostate Cancer: 3 Reasons Early Detection Is Important

By Scott B. Farnham, MD, Urology of Indiana

Prostate cancer is the most common type of non-skin cancer diagnosed and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among American men. When detected early, it is one of the most treatable cancers. In the past decade, great strides have been made in the management of prostate cancer. These efforts have resulted in improved cure rates and a better quality-of-life for men with the disease. This has been achieved through the advent of new and improved treatment options, but also, importantly, through better understanding that management of the disease is optimal when it is pursued through a comprehensive approach – which involves integrating different treatment options and tailoring them to each patient’s particular situation.

While prostate cancer is highly treatable, it is important to be informed about the causes and symptoms associated with this cancer and how to stay on top of your personal health.

1. What Causes Prostate Cancer?

The cause of prostate cancer is not known, but there are several contributing factors that can increase the likelihood of the disease. Most notably, the risk of developing prostate cancer increases significantly with age, especially for men over age 65. Researchers have also determined that males are twice as likely to get prostate cancer if there is a family history of the disease in a brother or father. Prostate cancer affects men of all ethnicities, but African American males have a higher incidence than other groups for reasons unknown. Elements of the Western Diet such high saturated fat and high intake of refined carbohydrates are thought to potentially contribute to increased risk of prostate cancer. Many studies have shown more aggressive disease in men with obesity or elevated BMI (body mass index).

2. Lack of Symptoms

Most men don’t exhibit any physical symptoms at the onset of prostate cancer, which makes the disease even more dangerous if left unchecked. When symptoms are present, they may include painful urination, a need to urinate frequently or the presence of blood in urine or semen. However, these symptoms are most often are associated with prostate inflammation or prostate enlargement. For this reason, men over age 40 are strongly encouraged to get a baseline PSA, and men over 50 are encouraged to have yearly screening with PSA and digital rectal exam. This is especially important for African American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer.

3. Survival Rate If Detected

The survival rates for prostate cancer are favorable, largely because the treatment options are extremely effective and often the disease is detected in an early stage. Patients presenting with later stage and more aggressive disease tend to have more complications, risk of recurrence and risk of death from prostate cancer. The most common treatment options for men with localized disease include surgical removal of the prostate (prostatectomy) or radiation therapy.

Surgery is most often performed robotically with a minimally invasive laparoscopic approach allowing for less blood loss, less postoperative pain and a quicker recovery. Radiation is often performed with image-guided therapy directly to the prostate. Men with low-risk prostate cancer are often candidates for active surveillance rather than immediate treatment. With active surveillance, a low-risk cancer is monitored with periodic PSA, exam, MRI and repeat biopsy. If there is progression to a higher risk tumor, then definitive treatment is performed.

How Is Prostate Cancer Detected?

Prostate cancer is usually detected during routine screenings. A prostate biopsy is the only way to confirm prostate cancer. During your routine screenings, your urologist will monitor your PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen blood test) levels and check for changes through a digital rectal exam (DRE).

In the event of a rising PSA, your doctor will likely perform a prostate biopsy. The biopsy is a simple process that takes place in the office with a local anesthetic. The tissue sample will be examined under a microscope to determine if cancerous cells are present.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) has gained popularity in the detection and diagnosis of prostate cancer in men with elevated PSA. Currently MRI is used in men that have had a negative initial biopsy but have continued risk due to persistent or rising PSA. MRI images can then also be used to guide subsequent biopsies of the prostate.

How Do You Reduce the Risk For Prostate Cancer?

There are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is important and will help the body to function properly.

Strive to eat a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy oils to achieve optimal results. There are also several specific foods you can add to your weekly diet such as tomatoes cooked with olive oil, cruciferous foods like broccoli and fish loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. These vitamins and nutrients work the best when they are absorbed by the body from real food, as opposed to multivitamins or oral supplements.

While the use of supplements may be beneficial for certain conditions, avoid exceeding the daily allowance of calcium and folate, as these may increase your risk of prostate cancer. Achieve optimal health by minimizing your consumption of alcohol and avoiding tobacco use.

Most importantly, early detection is key. If you’re over the age of 40, make sure you talk to your family physician about routine screenings and risk assessment. If prostate cancer runs in your family, you should monitor your prostate-specific antigens with regular PSA tests and annual digital-rectal exams.

About the Author

Scott Farnham, MD, is a board-certified urologist with Urology of Indiana. He completed his residency in Urologic Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2006 and has been in practice in Indianapolis for 12 years. Dr. Farnham specializes in prostate cancer, including robotic surgery for localized prostate cancer and caring for men with advanced prostate cancer/metastatic disease.

Dr. Farnham enjoys working with and leading strong teams in the operating room and in clinic to provide the best and most up-to-date care for prostate cancer patients and their families.

“Some of the most fulfilling aspects are helping patients and families navigate the complexities that come with a prostate cancer diagnosis related to understanding the disease, the different treatments and how to proceed when cancer returns after primary treatment. Additionally, some of the best advances in all of oncology over the last five years have come in the field of prostate cancer. It is an exciting time because we have many good treatment options to offer patients. Our goals remain to optimally treat their cancer while maintaining quality of life,” Dr. Farnham says.


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