Establish a routine. As you enter middle age, be proactive and ask your doctor for their recommendations on establishing a prostate cancer screening schedule that makes sense for you, given your risk factors and your family history. Exactly when you begin screening depends on a lot of factors, based on incidence rates among different populations. These are questions to consider in setting up a proactive prostate cancer screening regimen that works for you:
- Do you have a family history of prostate, ovarian, breast, colon, or pancreatic cancers among your male and female relatives?
- Do you have African ancestry?
- How old are you?
- Where do you live?
Learn more about screening for prostate cancer.
Pay attention to warning signs. Unfortunately, there often aren’t any early warning signs for prostate cancer. A growing prostate tumor usually does not push against anything to cause pain, so the disease may be silent for many years. However, there are certain signs and symptoms you should bring to your doctor’s attention. In some cases, prostate cancer can cause symptoms that include:
- A need to urinate frequently, especially at night, sometimes urgently
- Difficulty starting or holding back urination
- Weak, dribbling, or interrupted flow of urine
- Painful or burning urination
- Difficulty in having an erection
- A decrease in the amount of fluid ejaculated
- Painful ejaculation
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Pressure or pain in the rectum
- Pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, pelvis, or thighs
Sudden onset of any of these symptoms merits a call to your doctor.
Keep the conversation open. Sharing health information can feel uncomfortable. Many people feel that their health is a private matter, and many people feel embarrassed about their health problems. In some families and cultures, it’s almost taboo to discuss problems.
It’s normal to feel a need for privacy around your health, but the first person in a family to learn they carry a mutation can give the greatest possible gift to their children, their siblings, and their cousins when they share that knowledge.
The latest cancer research, including studies funded in part by PCF, has revealed much new information about the interplay between genes, cancer, and cancer treatments. Many types of cancer are much more prevalent in people with certain genetic mutations, so if you learn that a blood relative is experiencing one of these cancers—even if they are the first or only relative diagnosed—you should start a conversation with your doctor about ramping up your own screening regimen or ordering a genetic test.
Watch for breast, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers in particular, as these are known to arise in families sharing certain genetic mutations.
Genetic tests are very new, but they represent a wonderful chance to get ahead of cancer. Some of the newest cancer treatments are even keyed to specific mutations. Scientists have determined that people who carry a given mutation may benefit from a specific drug, while another may do little for them. If you’re from one of those families that has historically stayed hush about illness, you have a chance to turn the tide and improve the health of the entire family.
Success in treating prostate cancer can depend on early detection. But the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer can be subtle, and many prostate cancers are slow-moving. Many men have no reason to suspect anything is wrong, but learn they have cancer after a routine screening. This is why a thoughtfully-designed screening plan should keep you on a positive path to long-lasting prostate health.