What’s the big deal about a prostate exam?

November 05, 2018

What’s the big deal about a prostate exam?

What’s the big deal about a prostate exam? 

First of all, I did develop stage three Prostate Cancer. It would not have gotten to a stage three if it had been discovered earlier, and it should have been.

Alright, guys, I know what you're thinking. I've heard you say it: “Oh please not THAT test. Nope!” As much as you hate the thought of a rectal exam, though, it’s worth noting that prostate cancer is one of the most common and most dangerous cancers for men. But it is usually one of the most curable when it is caught early. The odds of surviving prostate cancer are fantastically in your favor. According to The American Cancer Society, the 10-year survival rate is nearly 100%. But that number decreases if the cancer advances to later stages. Nobody wants to get checked, but catching cancer early is so important for treatment and survival. It’s worth the awkwardness. And your loved ones would like to keep you around as long as possible.

What’s the big deal?

With the prostate “Size” matters! The prostate grows as you age, and it may reach a point where it interferes with urination and/or ejaculation. An enlarged prostate might mean cancer, but it might not. It could indicate an infection, or a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) which can be bothersome but isn’t cancerous. Either way, it’s best not to gamble with your health by ignoring symptoms.

There are signs and symptoms, you can notice some changes as I did such as ….

Difficulty urinating
Dribbling, stopping/starting mid-stream
A weak/less forceful stream
Frequently, bloody, or painful urination (blood will make your urine appear red or pinkish)
Loss of bladder control (leaks)
Decrease in semen
Erectile dysfunction
Bone pain
Lower back, hip, or pelvic pain

If you have any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor.

Am I at risk?

Some men are more likely than others to develop prostate cancer. Here are some common risk factors:

First, the risk increases with age.
It’s more common and more aggressive in African Americans.
Family history: if you have a brother, father, or son with prostate cancer you are more at risk. Some studies suggest that a family Hx of breast cancer may also indicate a higher risk of prostate cancer.
Men who are obese are more at risk.
Eating a diet high in fat puts you at risk.
Being sedentary. Exercise, as part of a healthy lifestyle, may lower your risk of cancer.

When should I get tested?

If you have any of the symptoms above, you should talk to your doctor about getting tested. There are two ways your doctor tests for prostate issues. First, there’s that test: the digital rectal exam (DRE), where your doctor checks for things like size, lumps or growths, or pain. Then there is a blood test that measures the amount of a protein in your blood called PSA. Higher than normal levels of PSA might suggest cancer, but not always.

The American Cancer Society recommends you and your doctor start the conversation about screening following these guidelines:

Age 40 if you have more than one family member (father, brother, son) who had prostate cancer younger than 65
Age 45 for African Americans and men with one relative (father, brother, son) who had prostate cancer younger than age 65
Age 50 for others

So how do I prevent prostate cancer?

Good question. There is no one key to preventing prostate cancer, but certain lifestyle choices you can make alone or with a partner can increase your chances of staying healthy:

Maintain a healthy weight.
Eat a healthy diet of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
Exercise. While not specifically tied to prostate cancer prevention, exercise supports your overall health, including your heart, circulation, and immune system.
Use it or lose it. The prostate helps make semen. It’s best to empty your tank regularly if you know what I mean.

Sound familiar? Well, the first three factors anyway. A healthy weight, diet, and exercise decrease your risk for a lot of diseases and are a good practice in general. Being healthier gives you an advantage when it comes to warding off disease. And bringing a partner or significant other on board for all the above is good for your relationship, and good relationships are also good for your health.

What if I really don’t want to get that test?

Here are some final thoughts to help encourage you:

The DRE only takes 10-15 seconds
Make sure your PSA is checked each time you have an annual physical exam
It could save your life and your health if it advances to the later stages it very well could metastasize and spread to other parts of your body.
Your female family members go through much worse at their yearly exams.

Look, a DRE may be a little uncomfortable. No doubt about it. But if your doctor recommends it, get it done for your peace of mind, and your family’s. Your life is worth more than a few seconds of discomfort.

Even if your doctor doesn’t recommend it take charge of your own health and get checked. Before 50 is recommended, but after 50 is crucial. Don’t’ wait as I did and let it sneak up on you and you develop cancer. Prevention is much better than going through the consequences.  

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