A quick and stress-free screening for prostate cancer can lead to early detection and timely treatment, which is absolutely brilliant news for guys…
Here’s what you need to know.
Why is it so important to catch it early?
When the cancer is still localised in the prostate at the time of diagnosis (and hasn’t spread yet), the five-year survival rate is extremely encouraging.
In the US, for example, the five-year post-diagnosis survival rate for localised prostate cancer approaches 100%.
This next stat, unfortunately, can’t be sugar-coated – once the cancer has metastasised to distant parts of the body at the time of diagnosis, the five-year post-diagnosis survival rate drops to 29%.
In short, it really is a good idea to get yourself tested.
Above: Position of the prostate, just below the bladder. (Image adapted from original, courtesy of Baresh 25 @Wikipedia.org)
When should you get screened?
In the early stages of prostate cancer, there may be no presentation of any symptoms at all, which is why screening is so vital.
Again, if prostate cancer is detected early, there’s an incredibly good chance that it can be cured completely.
The South African Prostate Cancer Guidelines recommend that:
- Black South African men and men with a positive family history of breast- or prostate cancer consider screening from the age of 40 (this is because black men have a significantly larger lifetime risk of contracting prostate cancer).
- Men from all other ethnic groups should consider screening from the age of 45.
Screening should include a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test and a Digital Rectal Examination if the PSA test comes back on the high side.
Don’t be intimidated by these tests; they’re not painful and they’re over in a flash.
The one with “rectal examination” in its name is hardly a horror show, and it can take as little as 30 seconds to complete.
Let’s face it, you’ll suffer more unpleasantness in 30 seconds of morning traffic – a very literal pain in the arse.
If there are any problems with the PSA test and the Digital Rectal Examination, men will generally be referred to a urologist for further investigation.
More details about the tests can be found below.
If symptoms do develop, they may include:
Above: The prostate is situated just under the bladder, and produces a milky white substance that forms part of semen. Sperm cells, produced in the testes, are transported into the urethra via the ejaculatory ducts situated in the prostate gland. The position and function of the prostate account for the following symptoms associated with urination and sexual activity. (Image courtesy of Cancer Research UK @Wikipedia.org)
- Difficulty urinating (weak or hesitant urination)
- Frequent night urination
- Sudden, urgent need to urinate
- Breaks in the urination stream (start and stop cycles)
- Pain in the groin, abdomen and/or lower back
- Pain and/or discomfort in the penis or testicles
- Painful ejaculations
- Erectile dysfunction
- Decreased urinary stream
- Blood in semen
- Blood in urine
- Raised Prostate-Specific Antigen levels
- Bone pain
The Prostate-Specific Antigen Blood Test
Above: Get tested on 15 March 2019 at this year’s Daredevil Run. Find the need-to-know details here.
The Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test is a blood test that gives an indication as to whether or not something is wrong with your prostate.
Screening via the PSA test will detect abnormally high levels of the antigen before symptoms arise. The trick here is to complete the PSA blood test at regular intervals as per your risk profile.
But, a high PSA test could also be caused by an infection or inflammation of the prostate.
This is to say that the PSA test is not 100% accurate, which is why it is recommended that men also have a Digital Rectal Examination.
Digital Rectal Examination
Above: The Digital Rectal Examination may reveal lumps or a swollen prostate. (Image courtesy of the National Cancer Institute)
This is a simple test that takes less than 30 seconds for a doctor to perform.
The examining doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum so that they can feel the prostate for any abnormal lumps, hardening or other signs of prostate cancer.
Couldn’t be easier.
Biopsy – the diagnostic gold standard
Above: There are several ways to biopsy the prostate. In the diagram, the biopsy needle is guided by an ultrasound probe to ensure that cells are removed from the correct areas. (Image courtesy of Cancer Research UK @Wikipedia.org)
If enough evidence for the reasonable suspicion of cancer has been found by the above tests, a biopsy will be done to either rule cancer out or to confirm a diagnosis.
If there’s bad news
If the results aren’t what you were hoping for, remember that prostate cancer, especially if found early, has an unbelievably good five-year post-diagnosis survival rate.
Your oncologist will walk with you every step of the way on the path to complete recovery, and organisations like CANSA are indispensable resources for help and information.
Speak to your family and friends and let them know what’s going on, and how they can best support you on this journey.
Know, above all, that you’re not alone.
Help spread awareness of prostate cancer
Awareness of prostate cancer, as with all cancers, is one of the first steps to early detection and timely treatment.
Help spread the news about the benefits of screening for prostate cancer by joining the 2019 Daredevil Run on the 15th of March. Learn everything you need to know here.
While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.