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Educate yourself about prostate cancer.

Byline: Ronald Ebb

September is National Prostate Health month. This commemoration provides an ideal opportunity for men, their spouses and families to become more educated about prostate cancer and the different treatment options available.

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in the male reproductive system. It is located below the bladder. Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate multiply out of control. More than 186,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, making it the most common, non-skin cancer in America.

Prostate cancer is most common in men who are more than 60 years of age. In fact, studies show that 65 percent of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 64. Studies also show that African American men are 61 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer compared to Caucasian men. Family history also seems to play a large role in who develops the disease. Men who have a father, brother or son with prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease themselves.

When detected and treated early, prostate cancer is very curable, particularly if it has not spread to other parts of the body. However, being diagnosed with prostate cancer can greatly impact a man's life as well as those closest to him. Each patient will have to make highly personal decisions about treatments in concert with his health care team. Accordingly, accurate information and education are important weapons in the fight against this disease.

Screening for prostate cancer

There are two tests used to detect prostate cancer - the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test and the digital rectal exam.

PSA is a protein that is produced by the prostate and found in the bloodstream. A PSA blood test detects the level of this protein in the blood. However, this test is not considered a definitive diagnostic tool. Other problems with the prostate, such as a prostate infection or prostatitis, or an enlarged prostate, commonly referred to as BPH, can cause an elevated level of PSA in the blood. In addition, some men with prostate cancer can have a low level of PSA.

With a digital rectal exam, a physician examines the prostate by touch, searching for any irregularities in size, shape or texture. The American Cancer Society recommends men undergo both a PSA blood test and digital rectal exam annually beginning at age 50. Screening at age 40 is recommended for African-American men and those with a first-degree relative who has had the disease.

Prostate cancer treatment

At present, there are several treatment options for men diagnosed with prostate cancer; however, there is no one treatment that works best for all men. Treating prostate cancer is a highly individualized process, which is why it is so important for men to discuss their options with their health care team and loved ones. Treatment options range from careful monitoring with no medical treatments to surgery known as prostatectomy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy or chemotherapy. There is also significant research being conducted on new therapies, some of which hold substantial promise.

For many patients who are eligible and choose prostatectomy, robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy, in which the surgeon removes the prostate with the assistance of a surgical robot device that increases the surgeon's vision and precision, has shown results equal to or better to that of open surgery.

Prostate cancer can present men and their loved ones with some difficult choices. On the one hand, if caught early it can be very curable. Yet, there are pros and cons to each of the several treatment options. The best bet is for men to be screened regularly, learn as much about this disease as possible and, if diagnosed, discuss the various treatment options available with their health care team and loved ones.

Ronald Ebb is a urologist on staff at Clinton Hospital. To make an appointment, call (978) 368-3760.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 9, 2008
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