By Executive Director Karen Oslund
“Write what you know,” is an adage I have taken to heart, perhaps to a fault. I have written about women-specific cancers three times in the past year but not once about men’s cancer. This is an unfortunate oversight I intend to correct. September is prostate cancer awareness month and since I am writing about what I don’t know, I called an old friend of the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County, Dr. Stephen Banks, a radiation oncologist and specialist in the treatment of prostate cancer.
In honor of all the men in our lives (or, yourself, if you happen to be a man) let’s learn more about the most common cancer in men (excepting skin cancers), and the second leading cause of cancer death in men (behind lung cancer). I dedicate this column to my dad, husband, and sons.
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. The average age of diagnosis is 66, but younger men can and do get it. Prostate cancer is more common in African American men, older men, and those with a family history of prostate cancer. Symptoms of prostate cancer include: urinary frequency, nighttime urination, change in urinary stream (especially if this appears suddenly), decreased ejaculate, and blood in urine or ejaculate. Pain in the bones can be a symptom of cancer that has traveled to distant sites (metastasized).
I asked Dr. Banks why some prostate cancers are more aggressive and life threatening than others, which might be monitored for long periods of time. Dr. Banks explains to me that you can look at it the way you look at high blood pressure: it should never be ignored; but it may be treatable over a period of time or a critical threat, depending upon the type and severity. Advances in tumor testing allow pathologists to determine how aggressive a prostate cancer is likely to be, based on its genetic make-up. This brings up an important point. “Prostate cancer is diagnosed by surgeons,” Dr. Banks tells me. That is because biopsy (removal of a tissue sample for testing) is a surgical procedure. One piece of advice that Dr. Banks shared with me was the value of having a consultation with a radiation oncologist to fully understand all of the treatment options available and not just the surgical ones.
Prostate cancer screening recommendations have become a subject of controversy in recent years. In 2012, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a report that advised against routine PSA (prostate-specific antigen) screening for prostate cancer. The PSA is a blood test that measures the amount of a specific protein produced by both cancerous and non-cancerous tissue in the prostate. The USPSTF has since walked this back, and Dr. Banks says, “most people working in the field advocate screening.” Discuss this with your doctor.
There is just too much more to say about prostate cancer, but I want to recommend the Zero Prostate Cancer website (zerocancer.org) to anyone who wants to do additional reading.
For men with a cancer diagnosis of any type, the Cancer Resource Center has two men’s cancer support groups that meet regularly, both inland and on the coast, both professionally facilitated by men. There is great value in discussing concerns and experiences with others going through similar things, and friends just make life better. For more information about support group dates and times, check our website, crcmendocino.org, or phone our main office at 937-3833.
The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County’s 2018 Cancer Awareness and Risk Reduction Campaign is sponsored in part by the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency. This information is for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County is a grassroots organization serving our communities since 1995 with information, advocacy and support services, free of charge.