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Published on August 29, 2012

Prostate Awareness

By Michael Peterson, MD
Avera Sacred Heart Cancer Center Medical Director

As we observe National Prostate Awareness Month in September, it’s important that we do just that – increase awareness about the disease itself. Knowledge is a vital tool in fighting not only prostate cancer, but any other disease as well.

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is the most common internal cancer in American men. The prostate gland is a small, walnut-sized gland that is located at the base of the bladder. Cancer and other diseases of the prostate can cause the gland to enlarge and make urination difficult. The American Cancer Society recommends that men who are 50 or greater who have a life expectancy of at least 10 years talk to their doctors about screening for prostate cancer. They should make informed decisions about screening for prostate cancer after learning its uncertainties, risks and potential benefits. Although it’s uncommon to develop prostate cancer at younger ages, men younger than 50 should also consider screening if they have a family history of prostate cancer or other prostate cancer risk factors.

Generally, prostate cancer doesn’t display many symptoms until it has become fairly advanced. That’s one of the reasons why prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American men.

There are a number of tests used to detect prostate cancer including a digital rectal examination, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test; ultrasound examination of the prostate, and prostate biopsy.

Listed below are common risk factors associated with prostate cancer:

  • Age – As you get older the risk of developing prostate cancer increases.
  • Race – Although the reasons are not clear, African-American men have a higher risk of prostate cancer than men of any other racial group in America. By contrast, Asian-American men have the lowest rate of prostate cancer of all racial groups.
  • Family History – As with many diseases, your risk of prostate cancer increases if there’s a positive family history.
  • Diet – Many studies have pointed to an increased risk of prostate cancer in men who eat a high-fat diet.

If you are age 50 or over, or if you are younger and have prostate cancer risk factors, it is important to discuss your risk of developing prostate cancer with your health care provider.

Although prostate cancer is oftentimes asymptomatic in its early stages, the following are some symptoms that may occur with prostate cancer or other prostate problems such as prostatitis (infection of the prostate gland):

  • Urinary hesitancy (difficulty starting the urinary stream)
  • Urinary dribbling, especially following urination
  • Urinary retention
  • Painful urination
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain during bowel movement

Other symptoms may include:

  • Excessive urination, especially at night
  • Incontinence
  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Blood in the urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s very important that you inform your health care provider. In its early stages prostate cancer is often highly curable.

Dr. Michael Peterson is a board certified Radiation Oncologist with the Avera Sacred Heart Cancer Center.