Just because women don’t have prostate glands doesn’t mean they shouldn’t know the facts about prostate cancer. In fact, as the gatekeepers of health for many families, women play an important role in encouraging the men in their lives to get regular prostate screenings.
“Women typically seek out healthcare more often,” says Dr. Jessica Kreshover, Urologist at the Arthur Smith Institute for Urology and Assistant Professor at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. “Because of this, they are in a unique position to communicate the benefits of prostate cancer screening with their male family members and friends.”
The Benefits of Early Diagnosis of Prostate Cancer
Many women are shocked to learn that prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, and that one in six men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime (source: American Cancer Society). Although these statistics are alarming, the news isn’t all bad. The reality is that prostate tumors are often highly treatable when they’re diagnosed at an early stage.
Yet, early stage prostate cancer typically has few or no symptoms. It is most often first detected by a digital rectal exam (DRE) followed by a blood test to measure a protein made by prostate cells, called prostate specific antigen (PSA). A doctor usually can feel whether there is any swelling or nodules on the prostate. An elevated level of PSA also is an indicator that cancer may be present.
Current Prostate Screening Guidelines
The American Urological Association recommends that men obtain a baseline PSA screening and a DRE at age 55 or age 40 if there are risk factors (African Americans and family history), with follow-up screens at intervals determined by the patient and his physician. Decisions made on screening intervals are based on multiple factors including:
- Family history
- PSA test results
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also recently announced a new recommendation that states that men ages 55 to 69 should “make an individualized decision about prostate cancer screening with their clinician.” This was a change to a blanket recommendation in 2012 for no routine screening at any age. Because of varying recommendations, it’s important for all men to discuss their specific prostate cancer screening needs with their physician during their annual checkup.
In some cases, genetic testing, to identify mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 which increase the risk of prostate cancer, as well as the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women, may be recommended as a risk assessment.
Prostate Cancer Treatment Options
If prostate cancer is diagnosed, treatment depends on the patient’s age, aggressiveness of the tumor and personal preference. Because prostate cancer is often slow-growing, repeat screenings and a follow-up biopsy is often the recommended option. If the cancer is more aggressive, treatment options may include surgical removal of the prostate, radiation therapy or brachytherapy, which involves placing small radioactive seeds in the prostate.
Coping with the Side Effects of Prostate Cancer Treatment
Some of the side effects of prostate cancer treatment, such as urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction (ED), can impact the quality of a man’s life. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for these side effects. Incontinence treatment options include surgical placement of a mesh sling over the urethra to hold urine back or an artificial urinary sphincter that closes down on the urethra to hold urine back. Oral medications, such as Cialis and Viagra, can help the majority of men who experience ED following treatment. Other ED treatment options include penile implants and vacuum pumps.
“There can be quality of life adjustments for some men following prostate cancer treatment,” says Dr. Kreshover. “However, women can help tremendously by providing compassionate moral support.”
Katz Institute for Women’s Health is here to answer your questions about cancer detection and prevention. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.