For Robert Joyce, September is a special time. This is because it is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and the 70 year old, who was diagnosed with the disease in October of 2008, knows that awareness is the best way to combat an illness that disproportionately affects Black men.
“Prostate cancer is probably one of the most curable cancers,” says Joyce, whose cancer is now non-detectable. “But you have to be aware. Black men are very much at risk for this disease. I believe every Black man over the age of 40 should be tested regularly.”
Following are some facts, risk factors, symptoms and methods of prevention for prostate cancer.
It is common – According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), prostate cancer is the second leading cancer among American men with more than 215,000 new diagnoses every year. One out of six men will be diagnosed in their lifetime.
It is deadly – Prostate cancer is the second deadliest cancer among American men, claiming more than 32,000 American lives each year.
Good news – The disease is slow moving. Close to 100 percent of those with prostate cancer have a five-year survival rate and more than 90 percent live 10 years past diagnoses. Much of this is due to improved treatment methods and earlier detection.
Age – According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), prostate cancer is much more frequent in older men. More than 70 percent of those diagnosed are over the age of 65.
Race – Prostate is the No.1 cancer among African-American men, according to the Zero Project to End Prostate Cancer, with 1 in 4 diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime. There are multiple theories as to the reason, ranging from less vitamin D absorption from the sun to less access to health care.
Genetics – The more family members diagnosed with the disease, the more likely it is that other family members will develop it. Especially significant is family members diagnosed before the age of 60.
Lifestyle – Diets high in fat may lead to prostate cancer. It is much more common in countries with higher meat and dairy intake than it is in countries with more grain and vegetable-based diets. Lack of exercise may also be a factor.
Urination – Prostate tumors can push into the bladder to cause several urinary symptoms. If the tumor is pushing into one side, it can cause frequent urination. If it is pushing on the other, it can block urinary flow. Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), which is an enlarged prostate, may also cause these symptoms. Either way, both BPH and prostate cancer are serious medical conditions, so if you notice changing bathroom habits you should see a doctor. Other cancer symptoms include weak urinary flow, difficulty controlling the flow, blood in the urine and pain.
Pain – In addition to pain while using the bathroom, soreness in the lower back, hips lower spine or thighs may also indicate prostate cancer. Again, this is the result of pressure added by the mass of a tumor.
Sexual activity – Prostate cancer can make it difficult to have an erection. Additionally, blood in the semen is a warning sign.
In many cases, prostate cancer shows up with no symptoms, which makes regular screening vital.
Be proactive with the doctor – It is never a bad idea to see a doctor. None of the symptoms above is a definite sign that you have prostate cancer. They could be caused by BPH, prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate), urinary tract infections and an array of other conditions. However, all of those symptoms mean that there is something out of place. The first step of overcoming any medical condition is diagnosing what it is, and the best way to do that is to consult a professional.
Screen – The ACS recommends screenings twice a year to ensure that the cancer is detected early, if present.
Live healthy – Of the four main risk factors for prostate cancer, lifestyle is the only one that is controllable. The risk of prostate cancer (and several other health problems) can be reduced by eating a diet low in fat, drinking little to no alcohol and exercising. Certain foods, drinks and vitamins are particularly good at preventing the disease, including fruits, vegetables, soy products, green tea and vitamin D.
You can e-mail comments to Aaron Rimstidt at Aaronfirstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the prostate?
The normal prostate is a small, squishy gland in men about the size of a walnut. It sits under the bladder and in front of the rectum. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the urethra, the narrow tube that runs the length of the penis and carries both urine and semen out of the body, runs directly through the prostate. The rectum, or lower end of the bowel, sits just behind the prostate and the bladder.
Sitting just above the prostate are the seminal vesicles, two little glands that secrete about 60 percent of the substances that make up semen. Running alongside and attached to the sides of the prostate are the nerves that control erectile function.