If you love your dad, you go with him to a baseball game. If you love your brother, you laugh at his corny jokes. If you love your significant other, you cook his favorite dinner.
But high on your list of show-him-you-love-him should be encouraging your favorite guys to be screened regularly for prostate cancer. It takes less time than nine innings at Minute Maid Park.
Prostate cancer is the most common solid tumor in men (comparable in occurrence to breast cancer in women). Approximately one in seven men will develop prostate cancer during his lifetime. When the tumor is clinically localized – just in the prostate – it is most often curable.
Adam Hollander, MD, and Richard Kim, MD, urologists affiliated with Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, agree that screening is the key to detecting prostate cancer early and treating it before it spreads.
Dr. Hollander recommends starting annual screenings at 50, or as early as 45 for those with a high risk factor. Men with a family history (brother or father) or who are African-American are at highest risk.
Regular screening can be done by either the primary care physician (PCP) or a urologist, often as part of a regular annual physical. It’s a two-part process that includes a physical exam and a blood test.
The physical exam checks for abnormalities, including enlargement or inflammation, in the prostate. The blood test looks for an elevated level of PSA (prostate specific antigen), an enzyme released by the prostate that is found in unusually high concentrations in men with prostate cancer. Results are usually available within a day.
Only a small percentage of tests come back positive and a normal reading is much more frequent. Nonetheless, “it’s important to start early,” Dr. Hollander says, “not because of the possibility of finding cancer, but because yearly screenings provide a baseline.” When the screening is done regularly, it helps the doctor see a trend. If a test comes back in what Hollander calls a “grey area,” it is much easier to interpret the results.
Prostate cancer is slow-growing – generally developing over a period of years rather than weeks – although, Dr. Hollander says, “it varies from cancer to cancer and patient to patient.” If a patient is over 75 or has other serious health issues, aggressive treatment may not be the best approach.
A healthy 50-year-old, however, can benefit from treatment. The method depends on the stage. It may involve nothing more than close observation in early stages, with radiation or surgery to remove the tumor in more advanced cases.
Surgery versus radiation? The choice is generally up to the individual, based on a discussion with his physician regarding side effects, expected outcomes and the patient’s unique characteristics – age, weight, general health and prior surgeries. Active surveillance can also be an option for less aggressive cancers, which can be determined with testing. A minimally invasive robotic procedure is now the standard of care when surgery is the best option.
Most men will never need to pick a treatment option, but one thing is certain: yearly screening is always the best option for good health.
Schedule an appointment with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Greater Heights Urology at mhmg.memorialhermann.org or call 713.244.6999.