Prostate cancer is a slow-growing cancer that often grows in the prostate gland, a male reproductive organ. Sadly, one in every six men (17%) will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime, and 3% of all men will die of this disease (over 27,000 men per year). In fact, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Despite the alarming frequency of this condition, in many cases it can be successfully treated.
The exact cause of prostate cancer is still unknown. However, some of the risk factors for developing this disease include:
- Family history – Having relatives who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer or breast cancer may increase your risk of prostate cancer.
- Obesity – Being obese may raise your risk of developing prostate cancer or having an advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis.
- African-American race – Prostate cancer is more common among African Americans than it is among members of other races.
- Age – As you age, your risk of developing prostate cancer continues to increase.
You may be able to reduce your risk of prostate cancer by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life. However, some of the risk factors for prostate cancer, such as your age and family history, are out of your control.
If you think you may be at an increased risk for prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Some men may benefit from taking certain medications, such as dutasteride or finasteride, to reduce their risk of developing cancer.
Because you cannot eliminate the possibility of developing prostate cancer completely, regular screenings are essential. Early prostate cancer often causes no symptoms, but screening tests can still detect the presence of disease.
Two tests are used to screen for prostate cancer: the digital rectal exam and the prostate-specific antigen blood test. The digital rectal exam, or DRE, is designed to test for abnormalities with organs and structures in the patient’s pelvis. The prostate specific antigen blood test, or PSA, measures a protein produced by prostate cells.
In general, you should begin yearly screenings for prostate cancer when you reach the age of 40. However, men with certain risk factors may choose to begin screenings before the age of 40. If your doctor discovers an anomaly in your digital rectal exam, or if your PSA level is higher than expected, further testing will likely be recommended in order to determine whether cancer is present.