Prostate cancer is the most common form of [non-skin] cancer for men in the United States. A part of the men’s reproductive system, the prostate is located below a man’s bladder and to the front of the rectum. When healthy, your prostate is about the size of a walnut; when diseased, your prostate will enlarge to the point where it will affect the encased urethra, the tube that empties the bladder of urine. An abnormal prostate can also negatively affect sexual function, as it produces fluid that is integral to semen.
As men age, their prostates tend to enlarge. In such cases the increased size causes narrowing of the urethra, which will in turn decrease the flow of urine. This condition isn’t cancer, it’s benign prostatic hyperplasia, just one of many prostate changes that can affect the prostate but is not cancer. Because there are a number of conditions that result in an enlarged prostate, it only increases the reasons for which a man should seek a urological exam to rule out prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer develops as cancer cells invade and grow in the prostate. The cancer growth is usually slower than cancers located in other parts of the body. In fact, prostate cancer can even begin ten to 30 years prior to symptoms caused by a prostate tumor that is large enough to detect. Unfortunately, by the time the cancer is detected, the cancer may have spread significantly.
It is rare men present symptoms of prostate cancer before they are fifty years of age old. By eighty years of age, cancer has occurred in more than half of the men in the United States. Over time the cancer can spread to lymph nodes in the pelvis area or could metastasize to other parts of the body. Prostate cancer tends to spread to bones; back pain can be a symptom of advanced prostate cancer. Other symptoms of prostate cancer include slow or interrupted urine flow, painful ejaculation, blood in the urine or semen, pain or burning sensation when urine is passed, and a frequent urge to urinate, especially during the nighttime hours.
Because prostate cancer can form long before there are symptoms, it is extremely important that men are checked regularly for prostate cancer. Your urologist will perform screening test to rule out or detect prostate cancer at an early stage. Prior to your screening, your urologist will take your medical history, especially with regards to prostate health; if there is a history of prostate cancer in your family you may be tested quite early. Your urologist will ask you about any symptoms, as well as discuss your lifestyle choices – such as smoking or a poor diet – that may place the patient at risk of the disease. The doctor will also request a urine sample, as well as ask questions about any abnormalities you experience during urine elimination. Other tests to diagnose prostate health include a digital rectal exam, PSA test, and perhaps a biopsy.
The PSA or Prostate-Specific Antigen
The PSA or Prostate-Specific Antigen is made up of a protein from prostate cells. The protein is secreted into prostate ducts and assists with manufacturing semen. The protein can seep into the blood; when this occurs it can be measured by a PSA test. When more PSA is found in the blood than normal, it may be an indication that cancer is present in the prostate. However, there are false positives associated with the test, since there are other reasons why there could be a high PSA blood level. A PSA isn’t conclusive on its own, but extreme levels indicate that more tests are necessary for diagnosis. The doctor may schedule regular PSA tests to check for changes in the PSA level over time.
Digital Rectal Exam
A Digital Rectal Exam, or DRE, is the primary method for checking the prostate. The urologist will check the prostate by feeling it from the inside of the rectum. Your doctor will do this while wearing a glove and lubricate the palpating finger for the test, which will last about 10-15 seconds. Your doctor will check the size of the prostate, as well as its firmness and texture. He will be able to determine if lumps or growths are present, as well as hard areas. Your doctor will also note if you experience pain during the exam.
Finally, the doctor will order a biopsy, if the symptoms and tests indicate that the patient may have prostate cancer. A small tissue sample is drawn from the prostate. For most men, cancer isn’t present in biopsied prostate cancer, but a positive test result is confirmation that cancer is present in the prostate.
Don’t take chances with your health. If you are 50 years of age or above or have a history of prostate cancer in your family, call for an appointment to check your prostate. Ironwood Urology will assess your prostate problems. Call us today for an appointment. The number is 480-961-2323.