Prostate cancer: Separating myths from facts
Prostate cancer — it’s a topic that has garnered more and more attention through the years, but that attention seems to be paying off. Death rates for prostate cancer are going down, and due to better screening processes, more men are finding the cancer early, giving them a better chance at fighting the disease.
But even though more people are willing to talk about prostate cancer, there are still many misconceptions about the disease and what can happen as a result of treatments.
Here are some of the most common myths related to prostate cancer and prostate cancer treatment.
Myth: Prostate cancer only affects elderly men.
While the disease is more common with men of increasing age, men of all ages should be vigilant about personal risk factors and talk with their doctor about being screened, especially those with a family history. The American Urological Association recommends that men ages 40 and older talk with their doctor about the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and a physical exam.
Myth: Prostate cancer is common, but few men actually die from it.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer, second to skin cancer, affecting men in the United States. Nearly 200,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009. Approximately 1 in 35 men will die from the disease. But early detection can be a lifesaver against prostate cancer.
Myth: If you have a high PSA score, you have prostate cancer.
PSA is a substance produced by the prostate gland. With prostate disease, greater amounts of PSA enter a man’s bloodstream, which is why an elevated PSA level has become an important marker of many prostate diseases. But PSA levels can also increase due to trauma or inflammation. So an elevated PSA does not always mean cancer is present. This can only be confirmed with a biopsy of the prostate. The decision to perform a biopsy should be based on results of the PSA, the physical exam and should also take into account patient age, family history, ethnicity and other illnesses.
Myth: Prostate cancer will ruin my sex life.
During some prostate cancer treatments, the nerves that surround the prostate and control the ability for erections may be affected. Your ability to regain control of erectile function also depends on your age and whether you had erectile problems prior to surgery. Most cases of post-treatment erectile dysfunction can be managed by a urologist. Talk to your doctor about the specific details of your condition, including your treatment options and their possible side effects.
Myth: All prostate cancer cases require treatment.
Not all prostate cancer cases require treatment immediately. Some cases are slow growing, while more aggressive cases require treatment. While regular prostate cancer screenings, including a baseline screening at 40, can help your doctor determine the cancer’s progression and need for treatment, there is a possibility the screening will detect a slow growing cancer that may not need immediate treatment. Men should discuss the benefits and risks of prostate cancer testing with their doctor. In some cases, a doctor may choose to monitor a man’s cancer over time – a treatment known as “active surveillance,” which allows the doctor to intervene only if medically necessary.
Myth: Vasectomies cause prostate cancer.
The American Urological Association considers vasectomy a safe method of surgical sterilization and men should not worry about an increased risk of developing prostate cancer after the procedure. Numerous studies have found no increased risk of prostate cancer in men who have undergone a vasectomy.
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