Some men rush to their doctor’s office assuming to receive a prostate cancer diagnosis based on incorrect notions. To help provide men with more accurate and relevant information during National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, the team here at New Hope Medical Center will be addressing some of the most common misconceptions about prostate cancer.
1. Big prostates are always a sign of cancer
The problems associated with the urinary system, such as frequent urination, is not always due to prostate enlargement or malignancy. Men with small prostate glands experience going to the bathroom too often as well, and even women endure this problem.
Having an increased urge to urinate is perfectly normal as people grow older. Aside from being a protective mechanism to free the urinary tract of microbes, most urges and sensations become weaker with age. For example, sex drive and libido decreases, hearing diminishes, and eyesight dims. Furthermore, if the urge to pee disappears, kidney failure and death may follow.
Of course, the increased urge to pee related to getting older is anything but convenient. It can be a frustrating problem, especially when it happens in the middle of a good night’s sleep. Prostate enlargement, however, is not always at fault. As a matter of fact, there is a significant advantage to having big prostates from a cancer perspective. Compared with small prostate glands, larger prostates tend to generate lower grade cancers, have less extracapsular spread, and experience lower recurrence rates.
A word of advice to all men: Although enlarged prostates offer some protection against prostate cancer, screening is still necessary to determine whether the cause is natural or a serious health concern.
2. Prostate cancer always causes symptoms
Some men only see a doctor when something hurts, while many others choose not to go at all, believing that the pain or discomfort will pass. Unfortunately, prostate cancer does not always cause symptoms until it progresses into a more advanced stage.
Prostate cancer symptoms — such as pelvic pain, blood in urine or semen, sudden changes in urinary habits — do not always arise until cancer has spread outside of the gland. By then, the prognosis is poor and the disease will be more difficult to treat.
Due to prostate cancer’s inconspicuous nature in the early stages, men should undergo annual screening with PSA (prostate-specific antigen) starting at age 50, while men with a higher risk of developing prostate cancer should begin screening in their early 40s.
3. PSA comes from prostate cancer
The National Cancer Institute defines prostate-specific antigen or PSA as a protein that normal, as well as cancerous, cells of the prostate gland produces. Yes, some prostate-specific antigens may come from prostate cancer, although the prostate gland is responsible for producing most of them.
As mentioned, benign (noncancerous) enlargement of the prostate gland happens as men age, which causes the prostate-specific antigen to rise. Another noncancerous cause for high PSA is a common urinary tract problem called prostatitis (prostate inflammation). Therefore, using PSA tests alone to diagnose prostate cancer is imprecise, most especially if the PSA is less than 10.
The information above does not mean PSA is useless. A high PSA helps indicate that something may be wrong with the prostate, but it does not always imply cancer.
Men who have a high PSA level should redo the process. If the PSA level remains elevated, a doctor should conduct further tests, including a multiparametric MRI scan, to help determine the possibility of prostate cancer.
4. All prostate cancers are deadly
There is a lot of confusion since the label “prostate cancer” applies to all the different types and grades of the disease. In skin cancer, doctors call the most aggressive forms “melanoma,” while the relatively noncancerous forms are referred to as “basal cell.” In prostate cancer, rather than using different terms, doctors use numbers. For instance, Gleason 7 and above can metastasize or spread. It can be fatal, although Gleason 7 is nowhere near as life-threatening as melanoma of the skin. Gleason 6 and below, on the other hand, does not spread and acts almost like basal cell carcinoma.
Now that medical scientists and doctors are becoming more aware of these differences, many of them are pulling away from recommending the same treatments for everyone. For example, some patients undergo close monitoring (active surveillance) without any immediate treatment. In the last decade, active surveillance has become more accepted as a way to manage selected patients with Gleason 6 prostate cancer.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the American Urological Association (AUA), and the National Comprehensive Care Network (NCCN) are some of the reputable organizations that accept active surveillance as a standard way to treat Gleason 6 prostate cancer.
5. Prostate cancer returning is equal to death
Some malignant diseases, including cancer of the lung, colon, and pancreas, may cause death within a year or two if they recur (return) after treatment. Therefore, it is no wonder why the word “cancer” frightens everyone. However, people need to understand that imminent mortality from cancer of the prostate gland, even if it returns after initial treatment, is almost unheard of.
There are several other reasons for prostate cancer patients to remain optimistic. Progress in medical technology is evolving at a rapid pace, and immunotherapy is perhaps one of the most exciting treatment innovations. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s amazing remission from skin cancer, which had metastasized to his brain and liver, is a leading example of the advances in medical technology. Furthermore, other contemporary types of cancer therapy can target and attack metastatic diseases without causing the many side effects associated with conventional treatments. Research about the causes of prostate cancer is progressing as well. So, to every gentleman battling prostate cancer, you can have realistic hopes of achieving remission.
The cancer care team at New Hope Unlimited is here for you if you are in need of specialists in immunotherapy and other alternative prostate cancer treatments. To schedule a consultation with our doctors, contact our office by dialing 480-757-6573. We look forward to personalizing your treatment program.