My husband, Roger, was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer on September 1, 2001, his fiftieth birthday. He had no symptoms, but because current American Cancer Society screening guidelines called for all men his age to be screened, his family doctor had given him his first prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE). Little did we know that the results of those routine tests would launch our crash course in Prostate Cancer 101, hurtling us into foreign and forbidding territory.
After Roger’s diagnosis, I quickly learned that we had prostate cancer. Although a man may endure the biological diagnosis, his partner is also immersed in the experiences surrounding diagnosis, treatment selection, and the uncertainty of side effects.
After weeks of research, consultations with medical professionals, and many prayers, we determined a treatment plan that included radiation and brachytherapy. The treatments proved successful, and we are now 10-year survivors of prostate cancer.
As a result of our journey, Roger and I became committed to raising awareness of prostate cancer. Specifically, I realized the importance of educating women, who often manage their families’ healthcare. By educating ourselves and by helping our partners be proactive regarding their own health, we can play a vital role.
Ten Things Women Should Know about Prostate Cancer
1. What is the prostate gland?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located between the rectum and the bladder. It produces milky liquid that carries semen and helps regulate bladder control and sexual function.
2. What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate grow out of control. The cancer may remain confined to the gland but can spread to nearby organs or even to the bones.
3. Who is at risk?
The American Cancer Society estimates that one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime, and prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men. In 2010 it was estimated:
- 217,730 men would be diagnosed with prostate cancer
- 32,050 men would die from prostate cancer1
4. Who is affected?
Prostate cancer is not only a man’s disease; it can affect the emotional, psychological, and economic well-being of wives, partners, and families as well.
5. What are the risk factors?
Although scientists are uncertain about the exact cause of prostate cancer, some of the following risk factors have been linked to the disease:
- Age. Chances of having prostate cancer increase significantly after age 50.
- Family history. Men whose fathers, brothers, uncles, or grandfathers have had prostate cancer are at double the risk.
- Race. The highest incidence of prostate cancer occurs in African-American men, and they are more than twice as likely to die from the disease.
6. What are the symptoms?
Often prostate cancer has no symptoms; however, some men experience:
- Urination problems
- Blood in urine or semen
- Difficulty with erections
- Painful ejaculations
- Back or hip pain
Note: Benign prostatic hyperplasia, commonly known as an enlarged prostate, can also cause these symptoms, so speak with a doctor to be diagnosed and treated if necessary.
7. How can prostate cancer be detected early?
Communication with a physician along with prostate cancer education is crucial to a man’s prostate health. The best early-detection tools currently available are a PSA blood test and a DRE. The American Urological Association recommends a baseline PSA and DRE at age 40. Patients and physicians should discuss risk factors and future annual screenings. The patient and his spouse or partner must be proactive about knowing his PSA numbers. PSA numbers should be tracked over time, as significant increases could indicate the need for further testing.
If the PSA or DRE is abnormal, the patient needs to be informed of the risks and the benefits of invasive prostate cancer screening (needle biopsy). Every case is unique, so getting a second opinion, ideally at a cancer center, can be an important next step. It is every patient’s right to speak up and receive the best healthcare possible, and wives and partners can be invaluable teammates in achieving this goal.
8. What are common treatment options?
Seek the advice of an oncology expert; treatment options vary depending on the patient’s medical history and profile. The most common treatments include prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate), radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, and active surveillance.
Possible side effects of each treatment should be discussed openly and candidly. Treatments can sometimes cause impotence or incontinence, and a doctor should explain possible outcomes.
9. What can women do to encourage men’s prostate health?
Women can ensure that the men in their families get their annual physicals and, if necessary, make the appointment for him. Early detection is the key to a good quality of life. If your partner is diagnosed with prostate cancer, attend his medical appointments with him and stay as well informed as possible. Support groups such as those offered by Us TOO and Women Against Prostate Cancer are invaluable resources for support and information.
10. What is the survival rate?
The good news is that when prostate cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it is highly treatable. The National Cancer Institute reports that the five-year survival rate of cancer that remains contained in the prostate is 100 percent. Unfortunately, once the cancer has spread, survival rates decrease significantly.2 _
1. Prostate Cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/ProstateCancer/DetailedGuide/prostate-cancer-key-statistics. Accessed April 5, 2011.
2. SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Prostate. National Cancer Institute website. http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/prost.html#survival. Accessed April 5, 2011.