Prostate Cancer 101: What All Senior Men Should Know
Prostate cancer is the third most common type of cancer. It affects over 3 million men in the United States – most of them seniors. Over 90% of all cases are diagnosed in men over the age of 55. If you’re an aging man, prostate cancer is something you should be on the lookout for.
How to Know if You Have Prostate Cancer
The best way to find out if you have prostate cancer is to talk to your doctor about being screened for the disease. Most doctors recommend starting to get screened for prostate cancer somewhere in your 40’s, so if you’ve made it to your senior years without being screened at all, talk to your doctor about starting now.
While there are many cases where prostate cancer doesn’t cause any symptoms for years after a tumor begins to grow, there are some symptoms that can point to a higher likelihood that you have the disease. If you have any of the following, talk to a doctor sooner rather than later about your concerns:
- Bloody urine
- Difficulty getting an erection
- Frequent urination
- Less ejaculate than formerly
- Painful ejaculation
- Painful urination
- Trouble holding it when you need to urinate
These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have prostate cancer, but they do make it more important that you look into the possibility with your doctor to be safe.
Understanding Prostate Cancer
If you do get a diagnosis of prostate cancer, your doctor will share two important pieces of information with you to help you understand your prostate cancer:
- Grade: The grade your doctor assigns to the cancer tells you how serious it is. As Dr. Brian Miles, Board Certified Urologist and Clinical Professor explains, “The cancer is graded using the Gleason grading system, that goes from 1 (least aggressive) to 5 (most aggressive) and the grading system is based on the architecture of the cancer itself.” The grade of the cancer is one of the most important things that will help you and your doctor determine the best course of treatment.
- Stage: The stage of your cancer is how far along it is, or whether or not it has spread beyond the prostate. Says Dr. Miles, “More than 90% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer have localized disease.” Prostate cancer that’s still fairly well contained is the easiest to treat and has the lowest likelihood of causing death – which is part of what makes early diagnosis so important.
This information will give you and your doctor a clearer idea of what you’re dealing with and how best to respond.
Prostate Cancer Treatment Options
If you do get a diagnosis of prostate cancer, there are a number of different treatment options.
According to Dr. Dan Sperling, Medical Director of Sperling Prostate Center, for patients with especially mild forms of prostate cancer the best treatment is active surveillance (AS). “AS patients can be successfully monitored by a combination of PSA bloodwork and an annual noninvasive multiparametric MRI scan. They may never need a repeat biopsy, or even treatment.” In these cases, simply staying vigilant to check in with your doctor and the progress of the cancer can save you from any more serious procedures.
Another option for early stage prostate cancer is freezing the cancer cells to kill them. This is often the next thing doctors suggest trying if radiation doesn’t fully kill the cells. Cryotherapy does cause pain and other side effects, including bloody urine and issues with your bowels and urination.
High-intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU)
High-intensity focused ultrasounds are a newer treatment option that is less invasive than most of the other treatment options. With this treatment, the energy of sound waves is focused on the tumor in order to kill it. HIFU has fewer side effects than the other treatments and a faster recovery time, and can be safely repeated if it doesn’t kill the cancer entirely on the first try.
For prostate cancers that are especially advance or for which the other treatments have failed, a prostatectomy is usually the best option. This is a surgery that removes the prostate and seminal vesicles. Where most of the other options are outpatient options, a prostatectomy requires staying in the hospital for a couple of days and often involves a slow recovery period, but there are steps people can take to improve the recovery period of a prostatectomy.
Rachel Gelman, Branch Director of the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center has worked with a lot of men after their prostatectomy. She says, “Studies show that 80% of men experience urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction following prostatectomy. Research has shown that receiving pelvic floor physical therapy before AND after surgery can help reduce the incidence of symptoms and reduce symptoms following the surgery.”
While men who have a prostatectomy can expect it to take a while for things to go back to normal (or a new version of normal), some time, patience, and a little work can help them get some more control back after the surgery.
If your doctor determines that you need to do something more proactive, then radiation therapy is the next step up. As with other types of cancers, radiation therapy focuses high-energy rays on the affected area to try to kill the cancer cells. It does have a number of side effects, including issues with your bowels and urination. If the radiation works though and successfully kills the cancer, most of the side effects will go away over time.
You Have Control
Cancer of any type has a way of making us feel powerless. Prostate cancer is a hard diagnosis to face, but it’s one you can do something about. Dr. Austin DeRosa with Urology Associates emphasizes, “Most forms of prostate cancer are treatable and curable. We have many different ways of preventing prostate cancer from affecting your overall survival, but this requires PSA screening and an active ongoing relationship with a urologist.”
You have to do the work of keeping up with doctor’s appointments and screenings, but if you take a proactive approach to checking on the possibility of prostate cancer in your senior years, there’s a high likelihood that if you do get it, you can beat it.