Every disease has its myths and misconceptions about them. Prostate cancer is no different. The confusion surrounding the disease is often fueled by bad advice from well-meaning friends and the fact that many men often avoid talking about their condition. Few men sit around discussing prostate cancer and if it is brought up, after a few wisecracks are made the topic is usually abruptly changed.
The reality men need to face and know is that about 161,360 men will be diagnosed and about 26,730 men will die from this cancer in 2017. It is considered the third leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind lung cancer and colorectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
With this reality in mind, it is always a good idea to review some of the popular misconceptions about prostate cancer to help educate men on what is the truth:
·Misconception – Prostate cancer only happens to old men
It is true the older a man is, the more likely he is to be diagnosed with the disease – About 6 cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, and it is rare before age 40. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 66.
However, younger men can and do get diagnosed with prostate cancer. There are many risk factors to consider that can determine the likelihood of whether a man may develop the disease at a younger age – family history, race, physical health and lifestyle – these factors need to be taken into account and assessed for a man’s overall risk.
·Misconception – No symptoms means no prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is one of the most asymptomatic cancers in oncology. Many men do not experience symptoms therefore making them vulnerable to believing they are cancer free. Usually a man’s doctor may pick up on symptoms at a routine check-up. Some common symptoms men should pay attention to though include:
·Difficulty starting or stopping urination
·Weak or interrupted flow of urination
·Painful or burning urination
·Blood in urine or semen
·Frequent pain and stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs
Any man experiencing any of these conditions needs to contact his doctor right away.
·Misconception – Prostate cancer grows so slowly it isn’t deadly
It is true that some prostate cancers do grow slowly and the 5-year survival rate is very high. Many doctors refer to most prostate cancers as “indolent” meaning they grow slowly and can be treated or actively monitored over the course of years. But some forms of the disease can be aggressive and deadly. Even though the majority of men will not have a prostate cancer that is deadly, you won’t know which type you have until you have a biopsy. Therefore, any man who follows the advice of not getting it checked or seeking care may face an unexpected and deadly cancer down the road that possibly could have been avoided if it had been treated earlier.
·Misconception – My dad had it, so I will too
It is true that any man who has a first degree relative – his dad or a brother – who had prostate cancer, has twice the risk of developing the disease than a man who does not have a family history. If two family members had prostate cancer, this increases the risk five times. But, just because a man has a family history of prostate cancer, does not automatically mean he will too, just like not having a family history means he won’t get the disease. What this does mean for a man with a family history of prostate cancer is he should report to his doctor of his family history of the disease and inquire when he should start being screened through the use of PSA testing. By doing so, this alerts your doctor and you to be vigilant on staying on top of any symptoms that make arise over the years.
·Misconception – A high PSA means I have cancer while a low PSA means I do not
The PSA test is not a prostate cancer test, but it is a vital first step in identifying the potential presence of the disease. The PSA by itself is not an informative enough diagnostic tool to distinguish between prostate cancer and other benign prostate conditions. An elevated PSA can be the result of benign conditions other than prostate cancer such as prostatitis, a urinary tract infection, or benign prostatic hyperplasia. If a man’s PSA level is elevated, then from there his doctor will determine depending on other factors, the next step in discovering the reason.
·Misconception – Vasectomies cause prostate cancer
It used to be thought that men who had a vasectomy were at an increased risk for prostate cancer. Today, this misconception has been put to rest by numerous research studies showing there is no link between a vasectomy and an increased risk of the disease. Scientists have been unable to identify a biologically plausible reason why a vasectomy might increase a man’s cancer risk. At present, most authorities, including the National Cancer Institute and the American Urological Association agree that vasectomies do not increase the risk of prostate cancer.
·Misconception –Treatment for prostate cancer always results in impotence or incontinence
There is always the possibility of impotence (erectile dysfunction) or incontinence following surgery or radiation therapy for prostate cancer, but not all men will have these complications. The side effects are highly dependent on age and physical condition. If a man does experience such symptoms, there are numerous therapies and aids to improve erectile dysfunction and incontinence after treatment is completed.
·Misconception – Sexual activity increases the risk of prostate cancer
At one time there were rumors that men who engaged in frequent sex or frequent ejaculations were thought to be at an increased risk of prostate cancer. This rumor no longer is considered fact as several studies have shown that men who report more frequent ejaculations had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. One study found that men who ejaculated 21 or more times a month had a 33% lower risk of prostate cancer compared to men who reported four to seven ejaculations a month throughout their lifetimes.