September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. What is prostate cancer and how many people does it affect?

  • Prostate cancer is a cancer that occurs in the prostate – a small gland located under the bladder that starts as a walnut-sized gland early in life and grows over time. The gland produces components of the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm.
  • Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men worldwide. The American Cancer Society estimates 174,650 new cases of prostate cancer and 31,620 deaths from prostate cancer in United States in 2019.
  • 1 in 9 non-Hispanic Caucasian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. However, if you’re African-American, the odds are higher, at one in seven.

What are the risk factors?

  • Age is a risk factor. That’s because prostate cancer develops predominately in older men, with average age of diagnosis of about 66 years.
  • Family history matters. Studies show that the risk of prostate cancer increases by a factor of two if one first-degree relative (parent or sibling) is affected. In other words, having a father or brother with prostate cancer can more than double a man’s risk of prostate cancer.
  • Race also comes into play. Prostate cancer strikes African-American men disproportionately, and is more common, aggressive and deadly compared to other racial groups such as Caucasian men.
  • Currently, African-American men are more than one and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and are more than two times more likely to die from the disease than Caucasian men. Additionally, the disease is more likely to be diagnosed later in African-American men than in Caucasian men of the same age.
  • Diet, obesity, sexually transmitted disease, and occupational exposures can also be risk factors.

What are the signs and symptoms to watch out for?

  • In its early stages, prostate cancer may cause no signs and symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may include:
    • Problems with urination – flow, frequency, pain and burning sensations
    • Blood in urine or semen
    • Trouble getting an erection
    • Pain in the bone, lower back, hips, or upper thighs (a sign that the cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland)
  • It’s important to keep in mind that some of these symptoms are usually caused by other problems such as infection or enlarged prostate due to aging, so speak to your doctor as soon as possible if you experience these symptoms.
  • Most of the time, early prostate cancer grows very slowly so it’s important for older men and those who have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with the disease – such as African-Americans – to be proactive in monitoring their prostate health by seeing their doctor and having physical exams.
  • Men, regardless of race, who are diagnosed with earlier stages of the disease – such as before the cancer has spread outside of the prostate – fare better with nearly 100% of men surviving five years and beyond.

Where can listeners learn more?

Your “Text Tom” questions answered below:

How “regular” is regular for a checkup if you meet a majority of the risk factors?? Is there a schedule?

=So here is the deal. Medical organizations have different recommendations regarding prostate cancer screening. It can depend on a number of risk factors – including your age, family history, race and more.

=But all organizations agree that the most important aspect of screening is to have a conversation with your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of screening tests. When you are getting ready to see your doctor, come prepared with the information you need to help make an informed decision – e.g., Do you have a family member with the disease? What symptoms are you seeing?

Tests may include:

  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test: PSA is a substance that can be found in blood. Elevated PSA levels are often found in men with prostate cancer. However, non-cancerous conditions such as prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate) can also cause PSA levels to increase.
  • Digital rectal exam (DRE): The doctor feels for hard areas or lumps in the prostate by inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum. This physical exam can make men feel anxious or uncomfortable, but it takes only a minute to do.
  • Further testing is often required if the results from either of these tests comes back abnormal.

If you have been told that the cancer might not be in the prostate, what should u do? This person is currently getting shots for prostate cancer.

I’m sorry to hear about this experience. Unfortunately, prostate cancer sometimes spreads to other parts of the body beyond the prostate itself, such as the bones, lymph nodes, and lungs. When this happens, it’s referred to as metastatic prostate cancer.

But we know that each individual situation is different and the treatment approach can depend on a number of factors, including whether or not the disease has spread outside the prostate. I would recommend that this person speak with his doctor to determine the most appropriate next steps.

I currently take medication for an enlarged prostate and I’m still struggling when trying to urinate. I’ve taken yearly physicals and my PSA numbers are good. What can I do?

First, kudos on the yearly physicals – they’re a great way to help stay on top of your health. Keep them up!

The symptoms that come with having an enlarged prostate can be tough, I hear you. Urinary trouble isn’t terribly unusual for people living with prostate cancer, or for people that have a condition like benign prostatic hyperplasia. What’s most important is to regularly see your doctor to understand the best way to manage these effects.

 Is there a cure for prostate cancer?

I’ll start by saying that every case is unique. But in many cases, especially for men who are diagnosed with earlier stages of prostate cancer, it can be treatable for quite some time. In fact, men who are diagnosed with earlier stages of the disease – such as before the cancer has spread outside of the prostate – fare better with nearly 100% of men surviving five years and beyond.

In other words, early diagnosis matters. Regardless of when the disease is diagnosed, it’s important for patients to work with their doctor to determine the appropriate next steps after they have been diagnosed.

 

As Chief Medical Officer, Freda Lewis-Hall leads Pfizer Medical, the division of Pfizer responsible for the safe, effective and appropriate use of the company’s medicines and vaccines. Before coming to Pfizer in 2009, Dr. Lewis-Hall held senior leadership positions with Vertex, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pharmacia and Lilly.

Trained as a psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis-Hall began her medical career in frontline patient care and became well known for her work on the effects of mental illness on families and communities and on issues of health care disparities. She is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Dr. Lewis-Hall was named one of Black Enterprise’s “Top 50 Women in Corporate America” in 2015 and was the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association’s 2011 “Woman of the Year.” She earned her undergraduate degree at The Johns Hopkins University and her medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine.  

  

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