Be aware of prostate cancer risks, screening

Matthew Watson, DO, and Brandon Reynolds, MD, urologists at Riverwood in Aitkin

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Prostate cancer is 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 gland in the male reproductive system located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It is about the size of a walnut and surrounds part of the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder). The prostate gland produces fluid that makes up part of semen.

“Because of effective screening options for prostate cancer, this disease is often caught before it spreads, and as a whole, survival rates are good for this type of cancer,” explains Dr. Matthew Watson, urologist at Riverwood Healthcare Center. “Some men may have a faster growing prostate cancer and will benefit from early treatment.”

Advanced prostate cancer can cause men to urinate more often or have a weaker flow of urine, but these symptoms can also be caused by benign prostate conditions.

Prostate cancer is more common in older men. It is more likely to occur in men with a family history of prostate cancer and in men of African American descent. Other risk factors include smoking, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise. In the United States, about 11 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their lifetimes.

Two tests are commonly used to screen for prostate cancer. One is a blood test called a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test to measure the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate. The levels of PSA in the blood can be higher in men who have prostate cancer. The other test is a digital rectal examination where a health care provider inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into a man’s rectum to feel the prostate for anything abnormal, such as cancer.

These tests are typically performed during an annual exam, depending on a man’s age and other risk factors. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about your family health history.