It is the most common form of cancer among American men, disproportionately affecting those over the age of 50. While nearly 200,000 men may be diagnosed with the disease in a given year, some may never suffer health problems as a result of it. Still, it remains the second most common cause of death for white, African-American and Hispanic men. We are talking about prostate cancer, which impacts the male reproductive system. The cause of this disease remains unclear. James Hamrick, M.D., chief of oncology and hematology for Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, says it's important for men to educate themselves about prostate health and talk with their doctor to determine if testing is right for them.
What is prostate cancer?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in men, located just below the bladder, which produces fluid found in semen. Men suffering from prostate cancer have an abnormal growth of cells in this gland. Cancerous cells in the prostate tend to grow slowly, which is why men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer often die from other causes. Still, early detection of the disease is key to providing treatment for more aggressive prostate cancers.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
In the early stages of the disease, many men experience no symptoms. However, prostate cancer can cause urinary problems. Talk with your doctor if you experience the following symptoms:
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
- Trouble starting or stopping the flow of urine
- Inability to urinate
- Frequent urination
- Blood in your urine
How do I know if I have prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is often found during a routine rectal exam and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. High levels of PSA in blood can mean that you have prostate cancer or other issues related to your prostate gland. As a result, your doctor may opt to take a sample of tissue from your prostate to determine if cancerous cells are present. You should talk with your doctor about whether prostate cancer screening is right for you.
Is treatment available for prostate cancer?
Yes. If the cancer is not aggressive, your doctor may choose to monitor its growth over time. However, radiation, hormone therapy and surgery are other treatment options.
Although the cause of prostate cancer is unknown, are there risk factors?
Age, family history and race can impact your chances of developing prostate cancer. Men who are over the age of 50, African-American, or have an immediate family member with prostate cancer are more likely to develop the disease.
James Hamrick, MD
Chief of Oncology and Hematology | www.kp.org
Dr. James Hamrick is chief of oncology and hematology for Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, the state's largest not-for-profit health plan serving 260,000 members through 30 medical centers across metro Atlanta and in Athens.