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Five Myths and Misconceptions About Prostate Cancer

February 02, 2018
Five Myths and Misconceptions About Prostate Cancer

Ask any group of men about prostate cancer and if they don’t abruptly change the subject to “ the weather,” or “that game last night,” chances are you’ll get a wide variety of opinions on screening and treatment.

Even though we’ve spent the past 25 years identifying more than 29 types of prostate cancer and funded research that has led to more precision, the fact remains that prostate cancer is one of the least talked about cancers.  This can lead to a great deal of confusion. So, let’s take a look at some of those myths and misconceptions about prostate cancer, a disease that is the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the U.S.

Myth #1: Prostate cancer is an old man’s disease

There are many risk factors to consider. Your race, family history, physical health and lifestyle—even geographic location—are all factors that can increase your likelihood of developing prostate cancer.

And it’s true: the older you are, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. While 65% of the 165,000 cases are diagnosed in men who are 65 or older, the fact remains that 35% of those diagnosed, or more than 57,000 each year, are diagnosed at an earlier age. Approximately 1 in 9 U.S. men overall will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Download our Patient Guide to learn more about these stats.

Myth #2: If you don’t have any symptoms, you don’t have prostate cancer

WRONG. Prostate cancer is one of the most asymptomatic cancers in oncology, which means that not all men experience symptoms and many times these symptoms can be mistaken or attributed to something else. Often, signs of prostate cancer are first detected by a doctor during a routine check-up. Common symptoms include: a need to urinate frequently, difficulty starting or stopping urination, weak or interrupted flow of urination, painful or burning urination, difficulty having an erection, painful ejaculation, blood in the urine or semen, or frequent pain and stiffness in the lower back, hips or upper thighs. Urinary symptoms don’t necessarily mean prostate cancer. If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your doctor. For more information on symptoms, see our symptoms page.

Myth #3:  Prostate cancer is a slow growing cancer I don’t need to worry about

Yes. And no. With the 29 types of prostate cancer discovered by PCF-supported researchers, we can confirm that there are those prostate cancers a man may die with and not of, while others are very aggressive. Once a biopsy confirms the presence of cancer in the prostate, a physician uses the data contained in the pathologist’s report to characterize the potential aggressiveness of the cancer and make recommendations for treatment based on many factors, including a patient’s age and health status. There are many treatments available for patients and one approach does not fit all cases. Patients need to understand the complexity of this disease and make treatment decisions that are right for them in consultation with a trusted medical professional.

The good news is that thanks to a revolution in precision medicine like immunotherapy, we have discovered treatments that will enable doctors to cure more and over-treat less. For more specifics on prostate cancer precision diagnostics, download our updated 2018 patient guide.

Myth #4:  Prostate cancer doesn’t run in my family, so the odds aren’t great that I will get it

Wrong. While a family history of prostate cancer raises a man’s odds of being diagnosed to 1 in 3, the fact remains that 1 out of every 9 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. This compares to 1 in 8 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer. And African-American men are 74% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 2.4 times more likely to die as a result.

Family history and genetics do, however, play a role in a man’s chances for developing prostate cancer. A man whose father or brother had prostate cancer is twice as likely to develop the disease. The risk is further increased if the cancer was diagnosed in a family member at a younger age (less than 55 years old), or if it affected three or more family members.

In 2017, approximately 161,000 new cases were diagnosed in the U.S. and more than 26,730 men died as a result of this cancer.

Myth #5:  The PSA test is a cancer test

Incorrect. The PSA test measures levels of prostate-specific antigen in the prostate, not cancer. PSA is produced by the prostate in response to a number of problems that could be present in the prostate including an inflammation or infection (prostatitis), enlargement of the Prostate Gland (Benign Prostatic HyperplasiaBPH) or, possibly, cancer. Think of it as a first alert smoke alarm, instead of a fire alarm. The PSA test is the first step in the diagnostic process for cancer. It has made detection of cancer in its early stages, when it is best treated, possible.  Additionally, PCF-funded research has identified genes, that when present, significantly increase risk for prostate cancer. These genes may be passed on and increasing risk for sons AND daughters as well. See how our research is leading to more precision medicine.