Contributed by Sanjay Basu, MD, Primary Care Physician, SMG Nashoba Family Medicine, Nashoba Valley Medical Center
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, which means it is a good reminder to discuss how proper prevention, screening and, if necessary, treatment can address prostate cancer and other common disorders. Let’s begin with the facts: all men have a prostate, that means that all men are at risk for prostate problems, and for the most part, these risks increase with age.
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland, which sits just below the bladder and surrounds the urethra, the tube that urine and semen passes through as it leaves the body.
The three most common problems associated with the prostate are:
- Prostatitis: This condition develops when the prostate swells or becomes inflamed, usually caused by bacterial infection.
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): A normal prostate can grow many times in size when hormonal changes occur after age 40, causing BPH (an enlarged prostate). An enlarged prostate can press on the urethra and cause urinary problems.
- Prostate cancer: Prostate cancer is one of the most diagnosed cancers in America. Tumors are often slow-growing and highly treatable. As a result, recommendations for who should be screened have changed dramatically over the past five years to address issues of overtreatment.
The medical community previously agreed that after a certain age, all men should be screened for prostate problems. However, the latest medical research suggests that prostate cancer screenings are no longer considered necessary for all men.
For this reason, men who previously would have received screenings as soon as they reached the age associated with their level of risk should now have a personal discussion with their physician at that time and make the educated choice on whether to pursue screening. Experts believe diet, race, heredity and aging are all factors in prostate health.
Symptoms of prostate disease include pain, burning and difficulty in urinating; blood in the urine or semen; painful ejaculation; and lower back pain.
For those who do decide to get screened, the most common exams include:
- A digital rectal exam (DRE): Although some men consider this test embarrassing, it is a quick, simple procedure that could save your life.
- A PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test: For men over 50 or earlier for men in high risk groups, such as African-Americans or those with a family history of prostate problems.
If diagnosed, a urologist can discuss and determine the best course of treatment for each individual patient. Treatments for prostatitis and BPH often include a low-fat diet and medications, while prostate cancer is typically treated with chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiation.
And, finally, one of the biggest problems in maintaining prostate health is that men are often reluctant or embarrassed to discuss it – even with their doctor. Prostate problems are common in men and more easily solved when they are addressed directly. That’s why it’s important for men to feel comfortable discussing their prostate health and engaging in honest conversations with their physician to determine whether screening or treatment is the right course for them.
For an appointment with Dr. Basu, call 978-449-0282 or visit https://providers.steward.org/.