Men's Health

Q&A on prostate cancer awareness

First Prostate Exam

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, so I would like to take a moment to answer some common prostate cancer-related questions, and remind you about early screening and treatment options.

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is a disease in which harmful cancer cells form in the tissues of the prostate.  The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system located just below the bladder, surrounding the urethra, and in front of the rectum.  The prostate gland produces fluid, which is found in semen.

What causes prostate cancer?

The exact cause of prostate cancer is unclear. Scientists have yet to discover whether it’s genetic or environmental, but we do know it begins when prostate gland cells become abnormal, usually through DNA mutations.  These mutations cause the cells to continuously divide and grow more rapidly than other cells.

How common is prostate cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer affecting men in the United States.  An estimated 241,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012 -- which translates to about one in every six men.  More than 70 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year are over the age of 65.

Men with a father or brother with prostate cancer are two times as likely to get the disease, and  men with three relatives diagnosed with it are nearly certain to develop prostate cancer.

What screening methods exist and should I be screened?

In light of the recent United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations against PSA screening, PSA, in combination with DRE, are the only screening tools we currently have for prostate cancer.  Researchers are actively studying to develop alternative screening methods.  Depending on your risk factors for the disease – like family history, race and age -- you and your physician will determine the best course of action.  

What are the treatment options for prostate cancer?

Watchful waiting - is the decision not to treat prostate cancer at the time of diagnosis. Instead, the prostate cancer is monitored until it shows signs of causing harm

Cryosurgery or cryoablation – involves freezing the prostate tissue to kill cancer cells

Hormone therapy – eliminates androgens (male hormones) from the body which the prostate cancer cells thrive on

Chemotherapy – uses drugs to kill rapidly growing cells, including cancer cells

Radiation therapy – there are 2 types: 1) External beam radiation, which involves a machine delivering high-powered energy beams to your cancer, and 2) brachytherapy, which involves the placement of radioactive seeds into your prostate, which deliver low doses of radiation over a long period of time

Prostatectomy – removes the cancerous gland, surrounding tissue and a few lymph nodes

Will I be incontinent or impotent after surgery for prostate cancer?

Every effort is made to spare the nerves that control these two functions and to securely reconnect the bladder neck to the base of the bladder, but surgical procedures always carry risks.  Unfortunately, these nerves surround the prostate and must be carefully removed from the gland during surgery.  One of the main advantages of this procedure is the fact that the nerves and vessels are all magnified and it is much easier to save them.  Return of potency could take up to six months and, in some cases, medications have helped patients.

What are the biggest mistakes men make regarding prostate cancer?

One of the biggest mistakes men can make regarding prostate cancer is going through it alone.  Keep your friends and family close – they can provide support during and after your treatment. Connect with other cancer survivors.  Friends and family can't always understand what it's like to face cancer. Other cancer survivors provide a unique network of support.  You should also learn enough about prostate cancer to feel comfortable making treatment decisions.  

Finally, understand that your sex life will be different after prostate cancer treatment.  Your body takes time to heal, and accordingly, your sexual and urinary function need time to heal also.

Prostate cancer is often referred to as “The Silent Killer.”  This month, urge the men in your life to get screened – it can save lives.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel's Medical A-Team and the chief medical correspondent for am970 in New York City. Learn more at Visit Dr. Samadi's blog at Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter and Facebook.