Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men and will strike approximately 248,000 men this year and kill more than 34,000, making it second only to lung cancer as the deadliest cancer in men.
If caught early, prostate cancer can be treated, usually successfully. Early detection is especially important for men, who are more likely to be diagnosed when their cancer is at an advanced stage.
The good news is that the earlier the disease is caught, the better the odds of successful treatment—regardless of race.
In other words, all men whose cancer is caught at the same stage will have identical outcomes.
For more than 30 years, doctors have had a powerful weapon in their arsenal for detecting prostate cancer.
In addition to the digital rectal exam, a physical exam that allows the doctor to feel the prostate, patients can have a simple blood test called a prostate specific antigen test that will detect a majority of prostate problems early.
Since the PSA has been used, prostate cancer deaths have declined and the number of successfully treated prostate cancer cases has risen.
However, in early stages, prostate cancer has no symptoms, so don’t wait for “something bad” to happen to get it checked.
“It’s important for people to know that prostate cancer is a ‘silent killer,’ meaning that there are no symptoms,” said Dr. David Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and director of men’s health at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, New York.
“As a result of COVID, over the course of the last year and a half to two years people have not been going to their screenings and they have not been checking their PSA’s. As a result, we’re starting to see very aggressive prostate cancers.”
This is doubly true during the COVID-19 pandemic. With more citizens receiving their COVID-19 vaccines, don’t let the pandemic deter you from getting an easy, fast screening test. Talk to your healthcare provider to schedule one this month.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and the Men’s Health Network urges all men to talk to their healthcare providers about prostate cancer.
The MHN also encourages women to get involved and to urge their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and other loved ones to talk to their healthcare provider about prostate screening, including the PSA and DRE tests.
Let others know about the risks of prostate cancer and the potential benefits of screening. Posters, fact sheets, and a social media tool kit, for use year-round at your place of worship, where you work and for your fraternity or sorority, can all be downloaded for free at www.ProstateCancerAwarenessMonth.com.
You can learn more about prostate cancer and other cancers in minority communities at the Office of Minority Health, www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov.
You can also ask questions of Nathan, the virtual prostate cancer expert, at www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate
A federally staffed panel of experts, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, makes recommendations about screenings that healthcare providers look to for guidance.
The Task Force has recommended that men age 55-69 should speak to their healthcare provider about using the PSA test to screen for prostate cancer.
But the Men’s Health Network, many other patient-advocate organizations and many healthcare providers think that doesn’t goes far enough.
The Men’s Heath Network urges the following men to talk to their healthcare provider about routine prostate cancer screening:
· All men over age 50, and at age 40 for African Americans and others at high risk
· Men with a family history of prostate cancer
· Veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and
· Men exposed to pesticides and certain other chemicals.
If you are on Medicare, prostate cancer screenings are part of your “Welcome to Medicare” physical, the free comprehensive physical exam you receive in your first year of eligibility.
But you may have to ask for the “Welcome” physical since many healthcare providers don’t know about it.
Medicare continues to cover prostate cancer screenings in the following years.
For younger men, more than 30 states require that insurance companies offering health insurance in their state provide coverage for prostate cancer tests.
Insurance companies may offer prostate cancer screenings in the remaining states but are not required to do so.
When you receive your PSA test results, ask the healthcare provider what your PSA number is, write it down and compare it against future tests.
If the number goes up in future tests, talk to your healthcare provider.
The bottom line? Having an annual prostate exam, including a PSA test, just might save your life. No matter what age you are, an annual PSA test creates a benchmark to judge future tests against.
No insurance and limited funds? Watch for free screenings in your area.
Many healthcare providers, hospitals, clinics, and health fairs offer free prostate screenings in September and at other times during the year.
Michael L. Leventhal is the executive director of the Tennessee Men’s Health Network.