To Celebrate Men’s Health Month, Get The Prostate Cancer Screening You Skipped in 2020
When a 2019 study about healthcare habits concluded that only half of adult men get regular annual exams, not many providers were surprised. Even when men did see a physician or advanced practice practitioner, just 20% said they were honest about their diet, lifestyle or symptoms. Many were embarrassed to discuss issues like erectile dysfunction, which can be a red flag of many other conditions, such as heart disease, vascular disease and diabetes.
Cancer Screenings DeclineLast year, COVID-19 fears and restrictions made it even easier for men to ignore their healthcare needs and Dr. John Obert-Hong, M.D., J.D. of Premier Suburban Medical Group says that has created a real problem. “The sooner a severe issue is diagnosed, the more likely it is that we can treat the condition. Even for issues such as high blood pressure, it is always better to treat sooner rather than later. Medical problems can arise quickly, so it’s important to make and keep routine health appointments.”
This is especially true of cancer screenings. In the first four months of 2020, cancer screenings decreased by nearly 94%. Even when clinics and hospitals began conducting screenings in July, many men ignored symptoms, delayed appointments and put off checkups. Diagnosis of cancers decreased by 50% last year. However, this doesn’t mean there were less cancer cases; it means by the time patients do seek treatment, the cancer will be more advanced, less treatable and result in more deaths.
For men, this means prostate cancer, typically easy to treat in the earliest stages, may have metastasized or spread to other organs, such as the bladder, lymph nodes or bones. When prostate cancer has spread, it is rarely curable.
The prostate sits between the bladder and penis, just in front of the rectum. This gland creates seminal fluid which nourishes and protects sperm as it is ejaculated from the body through the penis.
Dr. Obert-Hong, a Family Medicine physician in the Woodridge Illinois office, says that starting prostate cancer screenings should begin with a discussion with the patient’s physician. Family history, overall health status and any potential problems should be openly shared with healthcare providers, so physicians can make the very best recommendations for prostate cancer screening.
“We routinely begin prostate cancer screening at age 50, but depending upon a patient’s medical history, family history, or other risk factors, an earlier age may be recommended to start screening,” says Dr. Obert-Hong.
Who is At Risk For Prostate Cancer
About 13% of American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life. Black men are much more likely to develop the disease and twice as likely to die from it. When a man’s father, brother or son had prostate cancer, his risk increases by 2 to 3 times. The risk also increases if any family members have had breast, ovarian or pancreatic cancer. Military veterans exposed to Agent Orange have a greater risk of prostate cancer. There are indications that obesity is also a factor in diagnosis.
The initial screening test for prostate cancer is a simple blood test; a Prostate-specific antigen blood test or PSA. When PSA levels in blood are under 4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), about 85% of men will not have cancer. A PSA level between 4 and 10 raises the risk of a cancer diagnosis to about 25%. When the PSA is over 10 ng/ml, a man has a 50% chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer after additional testing.
“Based on test results, we may recommend advanced imaging such as an ultrasound or MRI,” says Dr. Obert-Hong. This is especially true in case of a man presenting symptoms of prostate cancer with lower PSA levels.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
The early stages of prostate cancer rarely have symptoms, which is why screening is so important. However, “a man should make an appointment immediately when they have any pain in the abdomen, rectal or genital area, or any changes in urination, bowel movements, or sexual function,” says Dr. Obert-Hong.
Other symptoms that should prompt an immediate healthcare visit include:
- Frequent urination
- Pain, burning or weak flow while urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Pain or blood when ejaculating
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of weight
- Pain in bones, lower back, hips or upper thighs
- Pain or discomfort when sitting
Often, PSA levels rise as men age, even when there is no cancer or abnormality of the gland. PSA levels can also be affected by recent ejaculation, infection or inflammation of the gland and medications such as testosterone.
If further testing is required, a patient may undergo a core needle prostate biopsy, where small samples of the prostate tissues are removed and examined. This procedure is usually done in a urologist’s office with a local anesthetic.
Prognosis for Treatment
“The prognosis for prostate cancer is usually excellent if discovered at an early stage,” says Dr. Obert-Hong. In fact, when detected early with annual screenings, nearly 100% of men will survive 5 years, and 95% will survive at least 15 years. However, when found in the later stages when the cancer has metastasized, the 5-year survival rate drops dramatically, to about 28%.
It’s vital for men to schedule annual exams, communicate honestly and openly with their healthcare provider and follow up on all screenings and testing.
“It’s not just prostate cancer men should be concerned about,” says Dr. Obert-Hong. “Men should also have screenings for colon cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer and testicular cancer; in 2020, colon cancer deaths increased by 16% and lung cancer deaths rose by 5%. Depending upon medical and family history, additional cancer screenings may be included.”
Celebrate Men’s Health Month this June by scheduling a complete physical exam as soon as possible. Ask your physician or advanced practice practitioner to schedule all screenings that were delayed or cancelled entirely in 2020 as soon as possible.
“Early detection and prompt treatment will make an enormous impact on your long-term health and quality of life,” says Dr. Obert-Hong. “Make your health a priority and make an appointment now.”
To make an appointment with Dr. Obert-Hong or any of the physicians and advanced practice practitioners at Premier Suburban Medical Group, call 815-300-7764 (PSMG) or click here. The group of dedicated and compassionate providers who put patients first has locations in Woodridge, Lemont, Orland Park and Blue Island.