It's a Guy Thing
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Guys hate talking about, but at age 50 men should talk to a doctor about the pros and cons of testing for prostate cancer so they can decide if testing is the right choice for them. Prostate cancer is the post common cause of death from cancer in men over the age of 75 and can be treated if found early through a prostate screening. Remember real men don't fear the finger!


What is Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is cancer of the glandular cells of the prostate gland.  The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system, which includes the penis, prostate, and testicles and surrounds the neck of the bladder and urethra.  Glandular cells of the prostate contribute secretions to the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports the sperm.  Ninety-nine percent of prostate cancers develop from these glandular cells.  Cancer originating in the glandular cells is termed ‘adenocarcinoma’.

The urethra, a narrow tube which runs through the length of the penis and prostate, carries both urine and semen out of the body.  The rectum or the lower end of the bowel lies just behind the prostate and the bladder.  Sitting directly above the prostate are two small glands called the seminal vesicles, which secrete substances that contribute significantly to the seminal fluid.  Nerves run on either side of the prostate gland that controls the erectile function of the penis. A healthy prostate is similar in size to that of a walnut. As males age, the gland tends to grow in size.  This can cause the urethra to narrow and decrease urine flow.

Prostate cancer usually occurs in older males.  It is the leading cause of cancer incidence among males in the U.S., across all races.  It is also the second most common cause of death due to cancer in the U.S. among black and white males.  In Georgia, prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer incidence and the second most common cause of cancer death among males. 

How is Prostate Cancer Detected?

Screening tests for cancer allow the disease to be detected at its earliest stages, before any symptoms develop.  Typically, when males are screened and prostate cancer is detected, the disease is found at an early stage and can be treated most effectively.  Since 1990, screening for early detection of prostate cancer has become popular and death rates of prostate cancer have declined.  However, studies are still underway to determine whether screening tests or better treatment options are responsible for the decrease in prostate cancer death rates.

Currently, the American Cancer Society (ACS) does not recommend routine screening for prostate cancer.  However, ACS does emphasize that doctors discuss benefits and limitations of early detection and treatment of prostate cancer with males at average or high risk of developing prostate cancer so that they may make an informed decision about screening.

If males choose to be tested, annual screening tests for prostate cancer are advised beginning at age 50 for those who have a life expectancy of at least 10 years.  Males at high risk (i.e. black males and those with a strong family history of one or more first-degree relatives diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age) should begin testing as early as age 40.  The two screening tests offered are:

  • Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test: PSA is a protein produced by the prostate and released in very small amounts into the bloodstream. When prostate cancer develops and grows, it releases PSA in increased amounts into the bloodstream, reaching a level where it can be detected by a laboratory blood test.  Levels less than 4 ng/mL are considered normal, between 4 -10 ng/mL are considered intermediate, and more than 10 ng/mL are considered high.
  • Digital Rectal Examination (DRE): During a DRE, the physician inserts a gloved finger in the rectum to feel for any irregular or firm areas in the prostate gland that might be cancerous.

What are the Symptons of Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer diagnosed in its early stages usually does not produce any noticeable symptoms.  Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer depend on the extent of the disease.  Most often signs and symptoms are caused by less serious prostate problems, such as an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia), prostate infection, or other health problems.  For men who do have symptoms, the most common are:

  • Difficulty starting or stopping urination
  • Needing to urinate often
  • Weak or interrupted flow of urine
  • Not being able to pass urine
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Difficulty having an erection
  • Discomfort and persistent pain in the hips, legs, and lower back


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