About Prostate Cancer
One of the most common types of cancer in men—and the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men in America—prostate cancer affects the prostate, a small gland that produces seminal fluid. This type of cancer usually grows slowly, and often stays within the prostate.
However, in some cases, it can be aggressive and spread quickly to other areas of the body, which is why regular screenings are so important.
Risks and Warning Signs
Your risk for prostate cancer increases as you get older—it most commonly occurs in men over 65. Other factors can also increase your risk, including family history, race, and weight.
Many men don’t experience any warning signs, although some symptoms can occur in more advanced stages of the disease, such as:
- Difficulty with urination
- Blood in your urine or semen
- Weight loss
- Discomfort in the pelvic area
- Swelling in your legs
- Bone pain
As with any cancer, the earlier it’s found, the better your chances of recovery are. Most men should start getting screened for prostate cancer at age 50, as part of a yearly health exam. Mention to your doctor that you’d like to get a prostate screening during or before your appointment.
The screening involves a blood test, which looks for elevated PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels in your blood. You’ll also likely get a rectal exam, which helps your doctor determine if there are any lumps or abnormalities on your prostate. The rectal exam may be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s quick and helps your doctor get a better idea of your prostate health.
Based on the results of one or both of these tests, your doctor may suggest a biopsy of your prostate. This procedure takes a small tissue sample from the affected area for further analysis, and is the best way to determine whether you have cancer.
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Understanding Your Gleason Score
If your biopsy results come back malignant (cancerous), the next step is to determine how aggressive your cancer is. This is done using a grading system specifically developed for prostate cancer, called a Gleason score.
Scores range from 2 (non-aggressive cancer) to 10 (very aggressive cancer) and are assigned by a specialist, called a pathologist, who studies your biopsied tissue and tumor pattern. Once your score is determined, you and your doctor will figure out the best treatment plan for you.
Learn more about testing and diagnosis
The treatment you receive depends on the aggressiveness of your cancer (based on your Gleason score) and your general state of health. There are typically two types of treatment paths, which are non-curative and curative.
Non-curative treatment is for patients with slow-growing cancer. It involves close observation, regular PSA tests and biopsies, and possibly medicines that slow cancer growth. This treatment path is recommended for older patients where the treatment risks and potential side effects—such as incontinence and temporary or permanent loss of erections—outweigh the benefits.
Curative treatment attempts to treat and cure a patient’s cancer, and is recommended for more aggressive cases. It may involve removal of the prostate through open incision or laparoscopic surgery, radiation, or both. Treatment could also involve chemotherapy or cryotherapy, in which the prostate is frozen and removed.
ThedaCare Cancer Care is available at clinics throughout northeast Wisconsin.
Learn more about cancer treatment
Living Well in Tough Times
If you receive curative treatment for your cancer, there can be some significant side effects—such as incontinence and loss of erections, which can be temporary or permanent. Your doctor will discuss these risks before your treatment, and provide tools to help you manage symptoms afterward, such as medication and a device that can help you create erections.
For many men, prostate cancer also comes with a variety of emotional side effects. Depression, frustration, shame, and relationship stress are all common responses. ThedaCare offers additional resources to help you cope with the emotional effects of cancer, including support groups and one-on-one counseling. Our Behavioral Health specialists can provide additional resources, mental exercises and coping tools to address your concerns and help improve your quality of life.
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