Understanding the symptoms and treatment for prostate cancer
By Dr. Kenneth Weisman
September is recognized as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month – shining a spotlight on one of the most common cancers among men. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 250,000 men will be diagnosed with the disease in 2021.
At some point in their life, roughly 13% of men will deal with a prostate cancer diagnosis. There are two types of screenings for prostate cancer. The first is a PSA test, which is a blood test that measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen – a substance that comes from the prostate. High levels of PSA could be an indication of prostate cancer. The second type of screening is a rectal exam, in which the doctor will feel for any abnormalities or nodules on the prostate.
If the PSA level is high, or something of concern is felt during the physical examination, we will then talk to the patient about doing a biopsy. We go in and get a closer look to know exactly what we’re dealing with and make a diagnosis.
So when should you start being screened for prostate cancer? Generally among men with no risk factors, doctors start doing the PSA screening between the ages of 50 and 55 years old. However, for men who have a family history of prostate cancer, and for African American men, who have a higher prevalence of prostate cancer, screening should begin between the ages of 40 and 45.
Symptoms of prostate cancer, compared to other cancers, may not be as obvious. Some of the symptoms I see in men over the age of 40 are most often urgency or frequency when it comes to urination, a decrease in the stream of urine, or getting up more than once at night to urinate. Some men may not notice these changes right away because they can gradually get worse over the course of several years. If someone is noticing any of those symptoms and they go on for a month or longer, he should see a doctor.
When it comes to treatment, there are several different options, depending on the individual’s diagnosis. Prostate cancer runs the gamut from not posing any risk to being life threatening. One of the big advances in prostate cancer treatment has been adding the option of active surveillance. If we find a minimal amount of cancer that’s low grade and testing reveals that the cancer is unlikely to progress, the patient can opt to come back to be re-evaluated every six to 12 months.
If a more advanced form of cancer is found, a patient can undergo a robotic surgery to remove the prostate. If the cancer spreads beyond the prostate, doctors will work with patients to determine the best course of action, which may be radiation therapy or other forms of treatment.
If caught early, prostate cancer can be very survivable. Men need to pay attention to their body and if they notice any changes, see a doctor.
Dr. Kenneth Weisman is a board-certified urologist with the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group and the Tallwood Urology & Kidney Institute, with offices in Bristol, Plainville and Southington. For more information, visit https://hartfordhealthcare.org/services/urology-kidney or call 860.348.2500.