By Todd Campbell, MD, FACS, medical director at Independence Blue Cross
Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey recently announced his prostate cancer diagnosis, assuring constituents that he has a treatment plan and expects to make a full recovery. Senator Casey isn’t alone in his diagnosis. One in eight American men face a prostate diagnosis in their lifetime. His announcement serves as an important reminder that the more informed you are about your health, the more control you have of your health.
Below, I’ve outlined five important facts to know about prostate cancer:
1. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting men in the United States.
In 2022, Americans saw roughly 268,490 new cases of prostate cancer and 34,500 deaths. The most common risk factor is age. The likelihood of a diagnosis dramatically increases after 50, with 6 in 10 cases of prostate cancer found in men older than 65.
While prostate cancer can be a serious disease, most men do not die from it. There are more than 3.1 million prostate cancer survivors in the United States today.
2. Preventative screening can be helpful in identifying a cancer diagnosis as early as possible.
There is no standard test for screening, but a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) Test and the Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) are two common tests. A PSA blood test is used to measure the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a protein made by your prostate. Higher levels of PSA in the blood can be an indicator that there is an issue with the prostate. A DRE is when a health care professional inserts a lubricated finger into a man’s rectum to test for signs of prostate cancer.
It is best to consult with your health care provider to determine what test makes the most sense for your health. The American Cancer Society recommends that you should begin those discussions with your provider at age 50 if you have an average risk of prostate cancer – and as young as 40 if you may be at a higher risk based on your race or family history.
3. Prostate cancer is one of the most asymptomatic cancers.
There is a misconception that cancers are always preceded by obvious symptoms. That is not the case with prostate cancers. It is one of the most asymptomatic cancers, especially when it’s in the early stages. This is why routine check-ups are so important. Even when symptoms do occur, they can often be mistaken for something else. Typical symptoms could include:
- Difficulty starting urination
- Weak or interrupted flow of urine
- Urinating often, especially at night
- Trouble emptying the bladder completely
- Pain or burning during urination
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Pain in the back, hips, or pelvis that doesn’t go away
- Painful ejaculation
4. Black men are more likely to be diagnosed.
Research has found that Black men are 75 percent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than white men and are more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than other men. Black men tend to be diagnosed at a younger age and at a more advanced stage. The reasons behind this disparity are being studied.
5. A family history of prostate cancer increases the risk.
Of all the major cancers, prostate cancer is one of the cancers that occur most often when a relative also had the cancer. Fifty-eight percent of prostate cancer is driven by genetic factors. Researchers have found that men may be at an increased risk of getting certain types of prostate cancer if they:
- Have a family member who has had breast, ovarian or pancreatic cancer
- Have more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer
- Were diagnosed at the age of 55 or younger