September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Because prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men, men over 40 should educate themselves on the basics of the disease and their risk. Staying mindful of the latest screening and treatment recommendations can keep you from being blindsided by a late-stage diagnosis.
Below are four top things to know:
Choosing how to treat prostate cancer can be a difficult decision, but there are tools to help
Many prostate cancers are slow growing. This means they don't grow and spread quickly and may not need immediate treatment. Experts say that treating a slow-growing cancer means some patients cope with side effects when they could've been symptom-free for years. This can make choosing how — or whether — to treat prostate cancer a difficult decision.
When the cancer isn't treated right away, doctors can keep up with how aggressive the disease is getting through regular follow-up testing and exams. Prostate-specific antigen testing (the same blood test used for prostate cancer screening) is just one type of test currently used for this.
Newer — and possibly more accurate — genetic tests are also being studied. These lab tests include the Oncotype DX Genomic Prostate Score test, the Prolaris test and ProMark. If you find yourself facing a prostate cancer diagnosis in the future, these tests could make the treatment-decision process much easier for you and your doctor.
Regular prostate cancer screenings save lives – but they aren't appropriate for all men
All cancer screening tests are designed to save lives by detecting cancer early — before symptoms develop and when it's easier to treat. But because many prostate cancers are slow-growing, regular prostate cancer screenings have the potential to do more harm than good by detecting cancers that don't need treatment right away.
It's for this reason that doctors no longer recommend yearly prostate cancer screenings for all men age 50 and older. Instead, most professional medical organizations now say the decision to undergo prostate cancer screening should be made between you and your doctor and based on your individual risk factors.
For most men, the discussion with your doctor about prostate cancer screenings should begin at age 50. But if you're African American or have a family history of prostate cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends talking with your doctor about screenings as soon as age 45 — age 40 if you have more than one first-degree relative who has had prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer has four clear risk factors
A cancer risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a particular type of cancer. Your risk for prostate cancer is greater if you:
- Are older than 50
- Are African American
- Have a family history of prostate cancer (have a father or brother who was diagnosed with prostate cancer)
- Have an inherited gene mutation linked to an increased risk for prostate cancer
Being aware of these risk factors can help you decide when you should start talking to your doctor about prostate cancer screenings.
Successful treatment takes a team approach
There's a lot to contemplate when planning how to treat prostate cancer. The best course of treatment depends on several factors — the cancer's stage, the tumor's grade, symptoms, overall health and tolerance for side effects.
You'll benefit greatly if your prostate cancer care providers take a team approach to your treatment. Your team should include specialists from different medical fields such as urology, medical oncology and radiation oncology. These experts should work together to give you complete, individualized care.
Learn more about how our multidisciplinary Prostate Cancer Collaborative takes a team approach to prostate cancer care.