By Dr. Anju Sikka, medical director of UnitedHealthcare on New Jersey
Ask any man about prostate cancer in Union County or anywhere else, and you may be met with an uncomfortable silence or abrupt change of subject. Although prostate cancer may be one of the least talked about diseases, it is one of the most common types of cancer among American men, second only to skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In Union County, the rate of prostate cancer is startling – an average of 197 out of every 100,000 men are diagnosed with the disease each year, significantly higher than the New Jersey state rate of 171 and the national rate of 153, according to statistics from the National Cancer Institute and the CDC.
The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly a quarter of a million new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed this year; about one man in six will be told he has prostate cancer during his lifetime, but only one in 36 will die of the disease. Despite the large number of diagnosed men who do not die from prostate cancer, it is still the second-leading cause of cancer death among American men.
The numbers are even more alarming for African-American men, who face the highest risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer and are more likely to die from the disease than men of other ethnicities. The reasons for the disparity are unclear, according to the American Cancer Society. In Union County, 282 out of every 100,000 African American men are diagnosed each year.
As with all cancers, education is key. The prostate is part of a man’s reproductive system. It is a small, walnut-sized gland that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. Cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the prostate grow out of control, but unlike other more aggressive forms of cancer, it usually grows slowly. Typically, in the early stages no symptoms are present, but as the disease advances, warning signs may become more evident.
Symptoms of prostate cancer include:
- difficulty urinating despite experiencing an urge to go;
- weak or interrupted flow of urine;
- frequent urination, especially at night;
- difficulty emptying the bladder completely;
- pain while urinating or upon ejaculation;
- blood in the urine or semen; and
- pain in the back, hips or pelvis that doesn’t go away.
Men who experience any of these symptoms should talk to their doctor immediately.
Since prostate cancer is not uncommon, all men should be concerned and watch for symptoms and early warning signs. However, those at greater risk should be particularly vigilant, including African Americans.
Aside from race, age is the strongest predictor of the disease. In fact, prostate cancer is very rare before the age of 40, and two out of three prostate cancers are found in men over 65, according to the American Cancer Society. Family history is another indicator. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles the risk of developing the disease.
Screening is Key
The American Cancer Society recommends that men should have a discussion with their doctor about screening at age 50. But men who are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer should have a discussion with their doctor as early as age 40. Screening tests can include a digital rectal exam (DRE) and/or a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Both tests can be usually be done by your family doctor.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, learn about all of the treatment options before making any decisions. Treatment may involve surgery to remove cancerous tissue, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or careful self-monitoring. It’s important to weigh the benefits of each treatment against its possible outcomes, side effects and risks before making any treatment decision. When discussing a treatment plan with your doctor it’s important to take into account factors like your age, lifestyle, and overall health.
Although any type of cancer can be scary, prostate cancer can seem like a devastating diagnosis. Fortunately, the vast majority of men can live to an old age with this diagnosis. Speak up if you have symptoms and talk to your doctor. By addressing the problem you’ll find the support you need to ensure the best treatment and your best health.
For more information, visit the CDC website, www.cdc.gov. UnitedHealthcare’s Generations of Wellness® website, www.uhcgenerations.com, offers online tools and culturally relevant health information to help African Americans enhance their health and quality of life.
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