September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month – a time to bring awareness to the most common non-skin cancer diagnosed in men and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men, after lung cancer.
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in the male reproductive system which produces fluid that makes up part of semen. Prostate cancer often has no early symptoms, but because of effective screening options, the disease is often caught before it spreads, and survival rates are relatively good for this type of cancer.
The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program estimated that more than 268,490 men in the U.S. would be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 34,500 were expected to die of the disease in 2022. About 11% of men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their lifetimes.
Who’s at risk?
There are three well-established risk factors for prostate cancer:
- Family history (including genetics).
As men age, their risk for prostate cancer increases considerably. About 60% of prostate cancer is diagnosed in men over age 65. That’s why talking with your doctor about screening for prostate cancer as you enter middle age is so important.
According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, all men, starting at about age 45 (age 40 if you are Black or have a strong family history of prostate or other cancers), should talk to their doctor about screening for prostate cancer. Routine screening starts with a PSA blood test and may include a rectal exam – both are simple and relatively painless.
The PSA Test
Prostate cancer screening starts with a PSA test. This is a blood test, and if your doctor is already drawing blood for other tests, the PSA test order can be added. Results should be back within a few days.
The test measures the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood. PSA is a protein produced by the prostate, and a small amount is normally released into the bloodstream. When there’s a problem with the prostate, more PSA is released. A rising PSA can be one of the first signs of prostate cancer. A PSA level above 3 ng/mL may suggest the need for further testing.
In evaluating the results of your PSA test, your doctor will consider:
- Your age.
- Your prostate size.
- The results of your previous PSA tests.
- Other medical conditions, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or prostatitis.
- Whether you’ve taken any medications that may artificially lower PSA, such as finasteride (Proscar or Propecia) or dutasteride (Avodart).
- A history of infections and procedures involving the urinary tract that can elevate the PSA.
Your doctor may determine that a digital rectal exam (DRE) is useful in evaluating your prostate health. The prostate is located just in front of the rectum. For this test, your doctor will gently insert a lubricated, gloved finger into your rectum to examine the prostate for irregularities in size, shape and texture. The test is quite brief, and it might be uncomfortable, but it should not be painful.
Myths and Non-Risks
Sexual Activity: High levels of sexual activity or frequent ejaculation have been rumored to increase prostate cancer risk. This is untrue. In fact, studies have shown that men who report more frequent ejaculations may have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer.
Vasectomy: Having a vasectomy was originally thought to increase a man’s risk, but this has since been disproven.
Medications (aspirin, statins): Several recent studies have shown a link between aspirin intake and a reduced risk of prostate cancer by 10% to 15%. This may result from different screening practices, through a reduction of inflammation or other unknown factors. The class of drugs called statins – used to lower cholesterol – has also recently been linked to a reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer in some studies. However, neither aspirin nor statins are recommended solely to prevent or treat prostate cancer.
Alcohol: There is no known direct link between alcohol and prostate cancer risk.
Supplements (vitamin E, selenium): Recent studies have not shown a benefit in consumption of vitamin E or selenium in the prevention of prostate cancer.
Hally Links and More
For more information on men’s health issues, visit these links from Hally® health:
- previous blog post for more about prostate cancer.
And visit these helpful links as well:
- how and why you should be screened for prostate cancer, from OSF HealthCare.
Learn more about prostate cancer from our partners at Carle Health, Reid Health, MultiCare Yakima Memorial Hospital and FirstHealth of the Carolinas