Michigan Association of Health Plans

Understanding Prostate Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Screening

This article was posted on HAP. Read more here.

Prostate cancer is a significant concern for men, especially as they age. It is the most common cancer among men, second only to skin cancer. Despite its prevalence, prostate cancer often grows very slowly and may not immediately cause serious health problems. However, early detection and informed decision-making are crucial.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Prostate Cancer


Prostate cancer may not show symptoms in its early stages, but there are several signs you should watch for. If you experience any of the following, consult your doctor without delay:

  • Difficulty starting urination or a weak, interrupted flow of urine.
  • Frequent urination, particularly at night.
  • Difficulty completely emptying the bladder.
  • Pain or burning sensation during urination.
  • Presence of blood in the urine or semen.
  • Persistent pain in the back, hips, or pelvis.
  • Painful ejaculation.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than prostate cancer, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). However, any persistent symptoms warrant a conversation with your healthcare provider.

Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer


Certain factors may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer, including age, family history, racial background, and lifestyle. African American men and those with a family history of the disease are at higher risk. Lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, and body weight, also play a role in the likelihood of developing prostate cancer.

Prevention Strategies

While early detection is key, preventing prostate cancer through lifestyle changes is also crucial. Adopting a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight can help lower the risk. Avoiding smoking and managing other health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure are also beneficial.

The Role of Biopsy in Diagnosing Prostate Cancer


A biopsy is the primary method for diagnosing prostate cancer. This procedure involves removing a small piece of tissue from the prostate and examining it under a microscope to check for cancer cells. Tools like transrectal ultrasound or MRI may be used to guide the biopsy accurately. The Gleason grade, determined during the biopsy, helps assess how likely the cancer is to spread, with scores ranging from 1 to 5.

Understanding Prostate Cancer Staging


If prostate cancer is diagnosed, additional tests will determine if the cancer has spread within or outside the prostate. This staging process is crucial as it influences the treatment approach. Early-stage cancer is typically confined to the prostate, while more advanced stages may have spread to other parts of the body.

Treatment Options for Prostate Cancer


Treatment for prostate cancer may vary based on the stage and aggressiveness of the disease. Options include surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and active surveillance. Each treatment has different implications for a patient’s quality of life and potential side effects.

Advances in Research


Recent advancements in prostate cancer research include developments in genetic testing, improved imaging technologies, and new targeted therapies. These innovations are helping to enhance the accuracy of diagnoses, tailor treatments to individual needs, and reduce treatment-related side effects. Talk to your doctor about the resources available to you.

Should You Get Screened for Prostate Cancer?


Screening for prostate cancer is a personal decision that should be made after thorough discussions with your healthcare provider. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men aged 55 to 69 make individualized decisions about prostate cancer screening, particularly the PSA test. Men over 70 are generally advised against routine screening unless specific risk factors are present.

Benefits and Risks of Screening


Screening can detect prostate cancer that might be at high risk of spreading, potentially allowing for earlier and more effective treatment. However, it’s also associated with possible downsides, including false positives and subsequent procedures that may carry their own risks, such as infections or pain. Treatment side effects can include urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

  back to blog