Knowing About Prostate Cancer Could Save Your Life

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and a good time to revisit what you know and don’t know about this disease.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men, aside from skin cancer. Approximately 164,690 men will be diagnosed with the disease in 2018 and about 29,430 are expected to die from prostate cancer this year. In West Virginia alone, about 820 will be diagnosed and 180 will die from the disease.

Recent changes in prostate cancer screening recommendations may have left you confused about what to do. The Prevent Cancer Foundation recommends men ages 50-69 at average risk talk to their health care professionals about the pros and cons of prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing before making a decision.

It’s helpful to study up before going into the doctor’s office so you have some knowledge of prostate cancer to help guide you in making an informed choice about whether or not to be tested.

Symptoms. In the early stages of prostate cancer, you are unlikely to experience symptoms. As it progresses, you may have weak or interrupted urine flow, difficulty starting or stopping the urine flow, frequent urination, blood in the urine or a burning sensation during urination. You might also experience painful or difficult erections or pain the lower back, pelvis or upper thighs.

Risk Factors. African-American men are at much greater risk of prostate cancer than white men, and are more than twice as likely to die of the disease.

Other risk factors are older age (about six in 10 cases are in men older than 65), family history of the disease and certain inherited conditions, such as Lynch syndrome or BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

Early Detection. PSA testing is the best screening method for prostate cancer, but it’s far from perfect. PSA testing shows your PSA level — a high PSA level can indicate prostate cancer, but it could also be an indication of other non-cancerous issues, such as an enlarged prostate (BPH).

Testing can detect cancer early, when successful treatment is more likely, and early detection of prostate cancer followed by prompt treatment saves lives. But testing can also result in false positives, leading to unnecessary concern, biopsies or treatment, which can cause serious side effects or complications. Some men may be treated for prostate cancer that would never cause them harm. It’s important to discuss these pros and cons with your health care professional to decide what is best for you. Testing is not recommended for men ages 70 and older.

Prevention. More research needs to be done on the effects of weight, diet and exercise on prostate cancer risk, but you may be able to reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and exercising regularly.

If you smoke, quit. To learn more about cancer prevention, visit www.preventcancer.org.

Mary G. McKinley, RN, MSN, CCRN, from New Martinsville, is a critical care nurse with over 30 years of experience. She is married to Congressman David B. McKinley, P.E. from the First District of West Virginia, together they have four children and six grandchildren.

 Even though her husband’s congressional duties usually require him to be in Washington during the week, Mary has continued her work as a nursing consultant and still resides at their home in Wheeling, frequent trips to Washington.

 Mary graduated from WVU and is a partner at the firm Critical Connections. Mary is the past President at American Association of Critical Care Nurses and is a published author on nursing, critical care and health policy.

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