Being faced with a prostate cancer diagnosis is an unsettling reality. However, if caught early, there is a lot hope for men with the disease. Prostate cancer typically grows very slowly, earning it the nickname "the snail of cancers," which thankfully means there's lots of time for treatment.
Dr. Robert K. Brookland, MD, and Dr. Geoffrey A. Neuner, MD, radiation oncologists with the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute at GBMC answer some of the pressing questions about prostate cancer.
What kind of cancer is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is an abnormal growth of cells within the prostate gland. It's the most common cancer that a man can develop. Doctors have learned that prostate cancer, along with many other forms is not lethal, according to Dr. Neuner. Today, it's rare that a patient is lost to prostate cancer.
Very often, it's not known why a man gets prostate cancer. In about 15 percent of cases, genetics may play a role, and there are no known lifestyle causes, according to Dr. Brookland.
Prostate cancer is not an aggressive disease. On the other hand, in some cases, it can become a problem if it has a higher risk of metastasis and begins spreading into the lymph nodes and bones.
What are the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer?
According to both Dr. Brookland and Dr. Neuner, most men feel fine and experience no symptoms for years. In most cases, prostate cancer is very slow-growing. In the past, urinary obstructions or blood in the urine were signs of prostate cancer, but regular care and screenings are now able to detect those symptoms early on.
If the cancer is an aggressive form and spreads to the bones, high calcium levels within the blood is a sign, says Dr. Neuner. Regular screenings and PSA blood tests have helped doctors find and treat aggressive cancers.
When should men start getting screen tests?
Men are encouraged to start getting prostate cancer screenings by age 50. For men who have a family history of the disease, they can begin as early as age 45 at least once a year. Patients are encouraged to talk with their doctor to determine what is best for them.
What is the mortality rate of prostate cancer?
It depends on the risk or grade, but even for men who have a higher risk or a higher grade, the mortality rate is less than five percent. They are likely to be cured of prostate cancer. If it spreads into the bones, it could shorten the years for some patients, another indication that early screenings are crucial.
For patients who are in the remission stage, Dr. Brookland recommends routine checks for any possible signs of the cancer returning. If nothing shows after 10 years, the patient is considered cured.
What are the treatment options after the diagnosis?
Today, there are many treatment options for men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Patients can discuss with their doctors the best route to take. The decision depends on side effects, personal preferences, convenience, and comfortability. Some of these options include radical prostatectomy or radiation treatments:
- Radical prostatectomy (RP) is the surgical removal of the prostate gland. The recovery time for surgery is about three to four weeks.
- Radiation treatments
External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) uses beams of radiation that are focused on the prostate gland using a machine from outside the body.
Brachytherapy is small radioactive pellets or seeds placed near or on the prostate.
There are also many methods for maintaining cancer or if it returns. Some treatments are combined depending on its severity. Other options include cryosurgery (freezing of the prostate) and high-intensity ultrasound.
Should men call their primary care physician or a specialist if they suspect something is wrong?
Patients should always inform their primary care physician if they suspect a problem. Your primary care doctor will access your concerns and recommend a specialist for proper testing, if necessary.
Cancer tends to spark a lot of fear and dread among people. The good news is that there are a variety of tests and treatment options available when it comes to prostate cancer, to give patients a hope of along and healthy life even after a diagnosis.
To learn more about GBMC, visit their website at gbmc.org.