What are the symptoms of prostate cancer and what are common treatment strategies? Are their risk and prevention factors to consider? When should you go to the doctor and are there support groups? Here, we look at all sides of prostate cancer from symptoms to pre-screening to treatment to finding the proper support.
General Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, there are common symptoms of prostate cancer.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation recommends, as do many physicians, that because these symptoms may also be a sign of prostatitis, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience any or all of the following symptoms.
If you find you are constantly getting up to go to the bathroom at night, during the day or locate restrooms when you reach a destination, this may be a symptom of prostate cancer.
Urine Flow Difficulty
If you find it hard to urinate even though your bladder feels full, you may want to check with your physician.
Pain When Urinating
If you experience pain when urinating, this is another common symptom of prostate cancer.
Slow or Intermittent Urine Flow
If your urine flow starts and stops again, speak with your doctor or seek the advice of a urologist to make sure this isn’t an early sign of prostate cancer.
If you find you’re experiencing ED or erectile dysfunction, this again is a symptom to have checked by your doctor.
Blood in Semen or Urine
Although blood in semen in urine can also be an infection of your bladder or kidneys, it is also a prostate cancer symptom so be sure to see your doctor so he or she can determine the cause.
Pain in the Hips, Lower Back or Thighs
A final prostate cancer symptom is experiencing pain the hips, lower back or thighs—especially the upper thighs. If you experience this pain along with any of the above symptoms, it’s time for a checkup.
Early Screening Is Essential
One test to determine protein levels in the prostate is a PSA blood test. The higher the PSA levels, the bigger the chance of developing prostate cancer or an infection (prostatitis). Levels of four ml are normal, over ten ml are high and levels between four and ten ml are considered intermediate.
Still, doctors warn that just because levels are high, it may just be an infection and further examination is required.
The second test is a digital rectal exam (DRE). This test is where a physician inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum to check the size of the prostate. Urologists and family physicians receiving training to spot irregularities in size, shape and texture of the prostate via a DRE procedure.
Again, doctors warn an enlarged prostate doesn’t always mean cancer and can also be signs of an infection or age.
Risks and Prevention
The American Cancer Society lists risk factors for prostate cancer as:
• Family history
• Being 65 years of age or older
• Race, more common in African Americans
• Inflammation of the prostate
• Men who have had a vasectomy
• Sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea or chlamydia
While genetic history, race and age are unstoppable risks, men can lower their chances of prostate cancer by losing weight, smoking cessation, receiving medical treatment for infections or sexually transmitted diseases and avoiding a vasectomy procedure.
Treatment Strategies and Side Effects
Like other cancers, no treatment works on every patient and men should discuss available options when diagnosed with prostate cancer. A frank discussion about the risks and successes of each treatment strategy is essential as some men diagnosed with “localized prostate cancer” have the option to skip treatment and still live a long life.
The most common treatment strategies include:
• Closely monitoring for signs of change
• A surgical procedure called a prostatectomy
• Radiation or chemotherapy or a combination of the two
• Male hormone control medication combined with traditional medications
• Emerging therapies via clinical trials
Men should consult not only with their family doctors but also a urologist, a radiation oncologist or a medical oncologist to help determine the right treatment plan.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation offers a list of current clinical trials for FDA-approved medications which are often combined with hormone medications.
Just as the treatment may vary from patient to patient, so will the side effects. Some men may experience:
• Trouble urinating
• Dysfunctional bowel or irritable bowel syndrome
• Erectile dysfunction
• Fertility loss
• Chemotherapy or radiation side effects such as nausea, headaches and dry mouth
• Drug therapy side effects
Some men may not experience any side effects of treatment but it’s important to discuss possible side effects of your treatment plan so you’re aware of them.
Support for Prostate Cancer
Men battling prostate cancer and their families don’t have to face the disease alone. There are local support groups and educational websites to help families and Dads deal with the disease. Some of them include:
• USToo Prostate Cancer Education & Support – This organization offers many resources including emerging treatment trends, help for African American men diagnosed with prostate cancer, newly diagnosed tips and insights and what to do if you experience a relapse. There is also a link to find a support group near you or choose an online support group.
• ACS Man to Man Group – The American Cancer Society offers a program called Man to Man that includes not only support groups (locally and online) but also information on how to finance treatment, how to obtain a caregiver if you need one and how your family can support you during treatment. Man to Man also offers a unique one-on-one visit for men diagnosed with prostate cancer from men diagnosed and treated for the disease.
• MDJunction – This is an online forum-type support group where men can join anonymously, ask questions and receive support from others diagnosed with prostate cancer and discuss treatments and side effects.
• Women Against Prostate Cancer – Very often spouses or partners may need to reach out for support as well. Women Against Prostate Cancer offers such support along with prostate cancer insights and advances in treatment.
• WebMD Online Support – The WebMD Prostate Cancer Community not only includes forum topics and discussions from men diagnosed with the disease but also advice from medical specialists. It’s free to join and easy to post a new thread or contribute to a thread.
• Prostate Cancer Foundation – Here, men and their families can find links to a variety of support groups both locally or in an online format. While some of the groups listed here are of the conventional nature—in person or online, others aid in finding a doctor to discuss concerns, finding survivors and engaging in forum exchanges and spousal support groups.
• Physician Support – Ask your doctor or oncologist if they know of any hospitals or clinic in your area that offer support.
The most important element of prostate cancer is early screening and testing as recommended by your physician. Most family physicians will perform at DRE and a PSA test during annual physicals, especially if you fall within a risk category or are over the age of 65. If you are diagnosed with this disease using the resources here will help you understand the disease and find the right treatment and support.