Talking about the prostate, urinary symptoms or sexual dysfunction can be uncomfortable, but it is essential for men’s health. The prostate is a tiny reproductive organ about the size of a walnut that lies below the male urinary bladder. It is responsible for producing semen and tends to grow with age.
“An enlarged prostate is often called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous condition that can affect sexual function,” says Steven Guarnaccia, MD, urologist at Dignity Health Medical Group – Sequoia. “Its symptoms include slow urine flow, difficulty urinating, frequent or urgent need to urinate, dribbling after urination, and waking up at night to urinate.”
Prostate cancer is another common form of prostate disease. It is the most common cancer among men in the United States after skin cancer, and is often detected during a routine checkup.
Myth 1: I don’t have any symptoms, so my prostate must be fine.
Reality: Men with prostate cancer may experience symptoms differently. Some men experience painful ejaculation or difficulty urinating or urinating too frequently. Others have no symptoms at all. The bottom line is that you could have prostate problems without even knowing it. In general, consider having a prostate exam at age 55. African-Americans and people with a family history of prostate cancer may need to be screened earlier, starting at age 45. Talk to your doctor about when and how often to check your prostate.
Myth 2: A high PSA level means I have prostate cancer.
Reality: Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) is a protein produced by the prostate. When there is a problem with the prostate, more PSA can be released into the body. Although a high blood PSA level may indicate a problem with the prostate, it does not automatically mean that you have cancer. A larger or tender prostate, urinary tract infections, or vigorous exercise, such as riding a bike, can affect your PSA score. So don’t panic if your PSA level is elevated. Ask your doctor what the cause might be so you can take the appropriate steps to correct it. Although the PSA test is the most widely used test for prostate cancer screening, researchers are looking for new ways to detect cancer earlier and improve its treatment.
Myth 3: My PSA test was normal, so I don’t need a rectal exam.
Reality: Two types of tests look for possible signs of prostate cancer. The PSA test measures the level of PSA in the blood and is the current standard for prostate cancer screening. However, in some cases, the cancer is found in men with normal PSA levels, so your doctor may also recommend a digital rectal exam (DRE). It is a simple procedure in which a doctor examines the rectum and the prostate. If your doctor feels a lump, changes in firmness or size, or anything else out of the ordinary, further testing may be required.
Talk to your doctor about which test may be right for you. If the test or tests show that you may have cancer, your doctor will refer you to a urologist for a prostate biopsy.
Myth 4: Everyone has the same risk of getting prostate cancer.
Reality: 1 in 8 men will have prostate cancer in their lifetime. A family history of prostate cancer is another considerable risk factor.
“Men are twice as likely to have prostate cancer when a brother or father has had the disease,” says Dr. Guarnaccia. “The risk is much higher for men with multiple affected relatives, especially if those relatives were diagnosed at a young age.”
African-American men are also at higher risk. They are more likely to get prostate cancer than other men. They also tend to get cancer at a younger age, have more advanced disease when found, and have a more severe type of prostate cancer than other men.
Food to go:
The goal of prostate cancer screening is to identify and treat prostate cancer before it causes any symptoms. Your doctor may recommend a DRE and PSA blood test to check your prostate. Men between the ages of 55 and 69 should discuss the pros and cons of each screening test with their provider. Make an appointment with your Dignity Health Medical Group doctor to review screening options and when or how often to check your prostate. Use our “Find a Doctor” tool to find a Dignity Health doctor near you.