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Prostate Cancer 101

A brief overview of prostate cancer basics

21790563_xxlProstate cancer is one of men’s worst nightmares. One of the most common types of cancer in men, prostate cancer affects a man’s reproductive system – a man’s prostate is a small walnut-shaped gland that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. Initially, cancer of the prostate grows slowly and remains within the prostate where it can cause less harm and will need minimal treatment. On the other hand, an advance stage of the prostate cancer is when the cancer becomes aggressive and quickly spreads to the other organs, thus causing more damage to the patient and needing more intensive treatments.

Statistics from the American Cancer Society reported that about one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. As prostate cancer occurs mainly in older men, about six cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, it is rare before age 40, and the average age at the time of diagnosis is about 67. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men (behind lung cancer), and about one man in 36 will die of prostate cancer. In Singaporean men, prostate cancer is the third most common cancer (Singapore Cancer Registry, Interim Report, 2001 to 2005).

Prevention and Early Detection

While the statistics on prostate cancer sounds like a death sentence, prevention and early detection are crucial in patient outcomes – as in all other cancer types. However, prostate cancer is a bit tricky as it may not show signs and symptoms in its early stages. By the time the symptoms are felt, the cancer is already at its advanced stage. Some of the signs and symptoms include trouble urinating, decreased force in the stream of urine, blood in the urine, blood in the semen, general pain in the lower back, hips or thighs, discomfort in the pelvic area, bone pain, and erectile dysfunction. Medical organisations have varying recommendations on screening for prostate cancer – the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test. In Singapore, the PSA test (a blood test) is now commonly included in health screening packages and is recommended for men aged 50 to 75, and who have a family history of the disease or show symptoms such as trouble urinating. Other diagnostic tests include DRE (digital rectal examination), trans-rectal ultrasound and prostate biopsy. Combination tests may be conducted, depending on subsequent results and the need for confirmatory testing. While still debatable among healthcare practitioners, neither the DRE nor the PSA test is 100% accurate. Both tests can sometimes lead to false positive or false negative results.

When to See Your Doctor

Be mindful of your body and how you feel. Most importantly, go for regular health screenings and include diagnostic tests for your age and existing risk factors (i.e. family medical history). These days, diagnostic tests are best recommended to asymptomatic patients, as they benefit most from it. Early detection is always a critical factor to disease survival and treatment success.

The main types of doctors who treat prostate cancer include:19767269_xl

  • Urologists: surgeons who specialise in treating diseases of the urinary system and male reproductive system (including the prostate)
  • Radiation oncologists: doctors who treat cancer with radiation therapy
  • Medical oncologists: doctors who treat cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy

Know Your Treatment Options

It is best that both doctors and patients understand the limitations of the screening for prostate cancer, in order to agree on the treatment approach when necessary. Depending on the test results, there are two contrasting school of thoughts in the approach of prostate cancer treatment– watchful waiting versus active surveillance. Men and their doctor usually debate on the best approach, therefore it is of prime importance to openly discuss prostate health and what your test results mean with your doctor (usually a urologist).

Depending on the situation, the treatment options for men with prostate cancer may include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Cryosurgery (cryotherapy)
  • Hormone therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Vaccine treatment
  • Bone-directed treatment

These treatments are generally used one at a time. However, they may be combined in some cases.


References and Further Reading:

American Cancer Society,

Health Promotion Board,

Mayo Clinic,

National Cancer Institute,

Singapore Cancer Society,

by Gloria D. Gamat
Posted by ezyhealth on Nov 5 2013. Filed under Medical Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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