Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the U.S., and the second leading cause of cancer death in men after lung cancer. But the U.S. rate of prostate cancer deaths are on the decline. That’s mostly attributed to the growing list of treatment options and targeted therapies.
Nonetheless, sometimes it takes a celebrity’s diagnosis to put the spotlight on the importance of cancer screenings.
This was the case recently when Al Roker, the veteran TODAY show co-host and weatherman, announced on the air that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and will be undergoing surgery to have his prostate removed. Mr. Roker explained that he wanted to make his diagnosis public to make more men aware that 1 in 7 African-American men — and 1 in 9 men overall — will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
Ironically, the American Cancer Society says that 66 is the average age of prostate cancer diagnosis — the same age as Mr. Roker.
“It’s a good news-bad news kind of thing,” Mr. Roker stated. “Good news is we caught it early. Not great news is that it’s a little aggressive, so I’m going to be taking some time off to take care of this.”
For men over 50, there have been significant advances in diagnosing and treating prostate cancer, including drug and radiation therapies, and a range of targeted strategies that spare patients of serious side effects.
“If you get diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s not the end of the world,” said Ahmed Eldefrawy, M.D., a urologic oncologist at Miami Cancer Institute. Dr. Eldefrawy specializes in treating cancers of the male reproductive organs and male and female urinary tract, including bladder, kidney, testicular adrenal and prostate cancers. “It’s a very curable disease. And with the current treatments we have, patients recover extremely well.”
Prostate Cancer Screenings
Men at average risk should start getting screened for prostate cancer by the age of 50. That includes the digital rectal exam performed by a primary care physician. The doctor feels your prostate for hard, lumpy, or abnormal areas. If a suspicious lump or area is detected, your doctor will recommend further testing.
A second test that is performed during checkups is the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, blood test. Most men without prostate cancer have PSA levels under 4 ng/mL of blood. When prostate cancer develops, the PSA level often goes above 4. Still, a level below 4 is not a guarantee that a man doesn’t have cancer.
Men with a family history of prostate cancer, especially a father or sibling, should be screened much earlier than the age of 50. Consult with your doctor about any family history of cancer and your screening options.
“Genetic prostate cancer runs in families, so anyone with a family history of prostate cancer should be should start the screening early, and especially if the family history is an aggressive prostate cancer or a family member who died from prostate cancer,” explains Dr. Eldefrawy. “This is something anyone should be concerned with, and the screening should start very early.”
Prostate cancer is rare in men younger than 40, but the risk rises rapidly after age 50. About 6 in 10 cases of prostate cancer are found in men older than 65, says the American Cancer Society. And, as Mr. Roker pointed out, prostate cancer develops more often in African-American men.
Some studies have indicated that prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland) may be linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer, but other studies have not found such a link.
‘Quality of Life’
Leading-edge surgeries using fast-evolving technologies are available to men with most types of prostate cancer. The multimodal approach, or a combination of therapies, have provided new hope for prostate cancer patients — and contributed to not only a declining death rate but a higher quality of life after treatment.
“We don’t even talk much about the cancer part of it; we talk about the quality of life part of it — the sexual function and the continence,” explains Dr. Eldefrawy. “I have not seen a patient with incontinence from treatment for prostate in a long time because the outcomes are very good. Now, we focus on the quality of life. So if you happen to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s definitely not the end of the world. And you still have many years to live — a full life. That’s my message to prostate cancer patients.”