September: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

As summer winds down and schedules return to a more normal pace, early autumn provides an ideal opportunity to get regular health screenings on the books.  September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and in Canada, it is estimated that 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetimes.

According to a recent McMaster University Optimal Aging Portal blog post, prostate cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer following skin cancer, and the third leading cause of cancer-related death among men.  As men age, the risk of experiencing urinary issues increases, and the most common cause is an enlarged prostate. 

The prostate is a small, walnut-sized gland in the male reproductive system that is responsible for producing seminal fluid.   This gland can develop cancerous cells, developing into prostate cancer.  Prostate cancer can develop slowly and many men experience no symptoms until the cancer has progressed to an advanced state. 

Men who experience urinary symptoms such as difficulty urinating, urinating frequently, or getting up often at night to urinate should talk to their doctor about testing and treatment options.  Screening for prostate cancer is most often done with a prostate-specific-antigen (PSA) blood test, but the test can produce false positives.   

Certain research suggests that further testing and over-treatments can result in complications including incontinence and erectile dysfunction – doing more harm than good.  Follow-up testing can be invasive, expensive, time-consuming and stressful, however, living with a slow-growing prostate cancer can cause some men anxiety.  The decision to proceed with further testing should be made with careful consideration.  Most experts recommend that men stop screening for prostate cancer at or near age 70, or if other serious health conditions limit life expectancy. 

The decision to be screened for prostate cancer should involve a discussion with a healthcare professional. A family history of prostate cancer may influence the decision to screen.  More information that can help guide the decision-making process can be found by following this link to the Mayo Clinic website.