September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Dr. Suchit H. Patel, M.D., Ph.D., radiation oncologist, Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center, recently provided answers to some of the most asked questions he receives from men when it comes to prostate cancer early detection and treatment.
How common is prostate cancer and who is most at risk?
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers for men, and all men are at risk. About one in 15 men in their 60s will ultimately be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and this risk goes up as men age. African American men are 50-70% more likely to develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Genetics also plays a significant role. Men with an immediate family history, such as a brother or father who had prostate cancer, are twice as likely to develop the disease. There are also certain known cancer genes that can add risk if men are carriers of those genes.
What are early signs or symptoms of prostate cancer?
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of early signs or symptoms. Most of the time prostate cancer ends up being diagnosed from a screening lab test that shows abnormalities. By the time one shows symptoms, the cancer may be more advanced. Common symptoms of prostate cancer include difficulties with urination, increase in urination frequency, and feeling a need to push more or stress to finish urinating. Rarely, blood in the urine can also be a sign of prostate cancer.
Can prostate cancer be prevented? If so, how?
There is little that can be done to change your risk. Prostate cancer is not as related to lifestyle or habits as other diseases. For example, when we think of smoking, we often associate it with lung cancer. Prostate cancer is not as strongly associated with habits like this. It is more common in older men and those with a family history, both of which cannot be changed. There is little in terms of lifestyle, aside from healthy diet and exercise that can help reduce the risk. The main drivers of risk are age, race and family history.
When should men be screened for prostate cancer?
The American Cancer Society recommends discussing screening with a healthcare provider, such as a primary care physician. If appropriate, screenings usually start around age 50 because of the higher risk with increased age. This is often done with a simple blood test and physical exam. A primary care doctor may recommend screening earlier due to family or genetic history.
How is prostate cancer treated?
Treatment for prostate cancer varies tremendously depending on exactly on how aggressive the cancer is and what stage it is when diagnosed. Treatment ranges from active surveillance, which involves a program of monitoring with regular tests, exams and imaging, all the way to aggressive treatment that involves radiation, surgery and medical therapy, such as hormonal treatment. This is customized for each man depending on where he lands on the spectrum of the cancer’s overall risk, generally classified as low, intermediate or high. It has recently gotten more granular to also include very low or very high. The intermediate and high-risk cancer treatments are tailored to what makes the most sense. This includes either surgery to remove the prostate or radiation to kill the cancer cells inside the prostate.
Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center offers a more progressive treatment option: SpaceOAR. What is this and how does it benefit patients?
The man’s prostate sits low on the pelvis above and in front of the rectum. Radiation therapy is delivered from outside the body through external beam radiation therapy with side effects that are generally urinary and occasionally rectal. The SpaceOAR technology is a game changer for prostate cancer patients. It is a temporary gel inserted to separate the prostate and rectum and dissolves over time after the treatment is complete. It allows for delivery of a high dose of targeted radiation treatment to the prostate while avoiding radiation to the rectum. This ultimately reduces rectal side effects for the patient and is more comfortable during the treatment process.
What steps should someone take if they or a loved one have just been diagnosed with prostate cancer?
For someone who just received a diagnosis of prostate cancer, the next step would be to have a consultation with a urologist and radiation oncologist to talk about what additional tests or imaging need to be done. These doctors will formulate a treatment plan that is appropriate for that patient at that stage and risk. For patients that have options between radiation and surgery, the next step would be to meet with a urologist about surgery or a radiation oncologist and finalize a treatment plan that is right for them. While both options work well, they have different quality of life changes.
Why should someone choose Mary Bird Perkins for prostate cancer treatment?
At Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, we personalize treatment for each patient. The decision for exactly what kind of radiation treatments to receive, how many of those treatments, and how to optimally combine them with other therapies such as hormonal treatment is a unique plan that is right for each individual patient. We offer conventional and more advanced radiation therapies, such as SBRT and internal radiation. At the Cancer Center, we have experienced oncologists we offer a team approach to treatment, ensuring the most comprehensive treatment plan available.
Where can someone find you if they want to schedule an appointment with you?
Please call (225) 767-0847.