Seniors and Prostate Cancer

prostate cancer

The word “cancer” can strike fear into anyone’s heart. It’s a dreaded word that we never want to hear come out of our doctor’s mouth, but sometimes we aren’t lucky enough to avoid it. But for those who are diagnosed with prostate cancer, there is very good news: it usually stays confined to the prostate gland and never travels to other areas of the body. And it often grows so slowly that those afflicted with it might need minimal treatment or even none at all.

In fact, the CDC points out that the vast majority of men with prostate cancer will die of other causes before they experience any symptoms of prostate cancer. An impressive 96% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are still living years later.

That means that if your doctor does give you a diagnosis of prostate cancer, you can take a deep breath and know that you have time to explore your many options for treatment.

What is Prostate Cancer?

The prostate is a small gland, shaped like a walnut, that sits in the pelvis of males. It produces the seminal fluid the body needs to nourish, protect, and transport sperm. Cancer begins when the cells in the prostate begin to grow in an abnormal way and create a tumor. Besides skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in men in the United States[1].

Cancer of the prostate usually causes no symptoms in the early stages, and it grows so slowly that you might have it for many years and not know it. If you do have symptoms, the Mayo Clinic suggests looking out for these:

·         You might notice a decreased force in the stream of urine when you use the bathroom, and you might see blood in your urine.

·         There might be blood in your semen.

·         You might feel some pain deep in your bones that doesn’t go away.

·         Losing weight without trying and with no clear cause can be a sign of cancer.

·         Erectile dysfunction is a common sign.

Even if you do not have symptoms, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends regular prostate cancer screening between the age of 55 and 69. For those at higher risk, screening is recommended starting at the age of 40. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force doesn’t recommend regular screening in those over the age of 70. For any senior concerned about health and safety, a medical alert system is a great choice. No matter what is happening in your life or health, help is always standing by, 24/7.

What Puts Seniors at Risk for Prostate Cancer?

As with most cancers, it’s impossible to point to one thing as the cause. But there are some factors that put a man at greater risk of developing prostate cancer:

·         Age. Those who are over the age of 50 are more likely to develop prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 60% of prostate cancers are discovered in men over the age of 65.

·         Family history. If someone in your family has had prostate cancer or if there is a very strong family history of breast cancer, you might be at greater risk for prostate cancer. Genetic mutations can be inherited or acquired[2].

·         Race. Black men have a higher rate of prostate cancer than other races do, and it is more likely to be advanced and aggressive[3].

·         Where you live. Those who live in North America, Australia, northwestern Europe, and the Caribbean Islands are more likely to develop prostate cancer than men in other parts of the world[4].

·         Obesity. If you are carrying a lot of extra weight, you might have a higher risk, and the cancer is more likely to be aggressive or return after treatment. (In addition, that extra weight can make it harder to keep your balance – that’s a good argument to consider a medical alert device to keep you safe and secure.)

Other potential risk factors that need further study include sexually transmitted diseases, consuming dairy products, having a vasectomy, being exposed to certain chemicals, or being diagnosed with inflammation of the prostate.

What is the Screening for Prostate Cancer?

There are two ways to screen for prostate cancer, and it’s not uncommon for a doctor to use both methods to provide a thorough examination.

The first is the prostate specific antigen test, or PSA. This very common test measures the amount of PSA made by the prostate. It’s a simple blood test that can be done along with other bloodwork. The higher the level of PSA, the more likely there is some problem with the prostate – but not necessarily cancer. PSA can be elevated for other reasons, including prostate infection, an enlarged prostate, and certain medications or medical procedures recently performed.

The second potential screening method is the digital rectal examination, or DRE. During this test, your doctor would put on a glove, use generous amounts of lubrication, and insert a finger into the rectum to feel for changes in the prostate. However, Renal and Urology News reports that only about 28% of these examinations actually detected prostate cancer; the PSA test is much more effective. Therefore, many organizations now say the DRE isn’t necessary and screening can be done through the PSA test alone[5].

If the PSA test comes back with a high number, your doctor might turn to other tests to confirm what’s going on. This can include different blood tests, such as biomarker tests or other types of PSA tests that can narrow down the diagnosis. An MRI and transrectal ultrasound can be used to determine where the problem is in the prostate, and that can help the doctor perform the biopsy. A biopsy removes a small piece of tissue from the body so the doctor can examine it and determine if cancer cells are present. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a biopsy is the only way to definitely diagnose prostate cancer.

I’ve Been Diagnosed. Now What?

It’s important to remember that prostate cancer grows very slowly and is highly treatable. In most cases, you’ll have plenty of time to make decisions on your treatment options or choose if you want to pursue treatment at all.

Your doctor will likely recommend that you see an oncologist. Some oncologists focus specifically on a certain type of cancer, so you might have one near you that focuses only on cancer of the prostate[6].

If you and your oncologist decide that treatment is the right way to go, the Prostate Cancer Foundation lists several options. These can include surgery to remove the tumor or radiation to shrink the tumor. For those whose cancer has metastasized, or moved to other parts of the body, chemotherapy and hormone therapy are good options. There are also emerging treatments that show great promise, such as immunotherapy and targeted therapies that use your genetic makeup to determine the right medications to fight the cancer.

Many men diagnosed with prostate cancer will opt for active surveillance. This means that they will get regular checkups and testing that determines how quickly the prostate cancer is growing. By choosing active surveillance, you’ll forego treatments unless the cancer appears to be growing rapidly or leads to bothersome symptoms. 

Some treatments for prostate cancer can leave you feeling weak and tired. A medical alert system with fall detection is a good idea for those who are undergoing treatment for any type of cancer. But an emergency response system is also a good idea for those who have chosen watchful waiting – the last thing you need is an additional health complication. Having a medical alert or personal emergency alarm button at your fingertips provides peace of mind.

How Can Seniors Prevent Prostate Cancer?

Though no one knows what causes prostate cancer, if you can reduce your risk factors, you are more likely to avoid a diagnosis. The even better news is that these lifestyle changes can lead to better health overall and reduce your risk of cancer in general.

·         Eat a healthy diet. Look for a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The Mediterranean diet is often a great option for anyone who wants to improve their health.

·         Exercise regularly. Try to exercise a bit every day if you can, even if that means walking around your neighborhood or working in your garden. Regular exercise brings a host of health benefits, including a better mood and easier weight control.

·         Stay at a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, embark on a sensible diet plan recommended by your doctor. If you are already at a healthy weight, maintain it through good diet and exercise.

·         Talk to your doctor. If you are at a higher risk of prostate cancer, there are medications that might reduce your odds of developing it. Some of the more common drugs include Propecia and Proscar. You might recognize those drugs as treatments for hair loss – they also control enlargement of the prostate gland and might reduce your risk of cancer[7].

In addition to taking these excellent health measures for yourself, it’s important to take preventative measures in other areas of your life as well. As we get older and balance issues become more prevalent, the risk of falling or other accidents goes up. Medical alerts for seniors can get help in a timely manner. Here’s to your good health!