September 9, 2013 3:41 pm

Cancer Demystified by Dr. Kris Gast

The second leading cause of cancer deaths in males, prostate cancer is also the most common cancer in men. Nearly 240,000 new cases are diagnosed every year with that number expected to increase as the population ages, since prostate cancer is primarily a disease of older men.  Because of the likelihood of men developing prostate cancer, the American Society of Oncology suggests screening should start at age 50 with a PSA blood test and an exam by a physician.  Men with a family history of prostate cancer should be screened beginning at age 40.

However, the question whether or not men should be tested for prostate cancer remains. A recent government review by the US Preventative Sources Task Force recommended doctors not test men for prostate cancer.  Yet, older studies from other countries that employ this same philosophy have shown a higher death rate among their citizens from prostate cancer. Most doctors in the United States prefer to evaluate each person individually and let the patient participate in the process of deciding to screen for prostate cancer. Factors that help decide whether to screen or not include age of the patient, family history of prostate cancer, and the patient’s quality of life. Having a friend or family member diagnosed with prostate cancer or being encouraged by family to be screened usually leads a man to be tested.

When diagnosed with prostate cancer, men today have many options for treatment. Doctors should review all the choices of treatments with their patients while explaining the risks, benefits, and side effects of each choice.  The goal of treatments today is to minimize the side effects as much as possible.  For example, over the last thirty years, the goal of radiation oncologists has been to decrease or eliminate the side effects of treatment while still delivering a curative dose to the cancer. Today, side effects of radiation therapy to the prostate are very minimal.

Therefore, finding prostate cancer early by screening can and does save lives.  Doctors have always been told and believed that finding cancer at the earliest stage allows patients to be cured at a higher rate. This belief is still true for prostate cancer.

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