There are at least a thousand good reasons for mature men to take part in the eighth annual prostate cancer screening to be held on Tuesday, September 10, at the Sierra Nevada Community Cancer Center.
Approximately 1,100 local males have been treated for prostate cancer at the Cancer Center since it opened in 1995, according to Lynn Love, SNMH Radiation Oncology. That represents an average of sixty one men a year, ranging from a low of 12 the first year to a high of 115 in 2008.
Although prostate cancer is popularly known as a “slow growing cancer” that doesn’t always need treatment, Dr. Richard Evans, a board certified radiation oncologist, points out that this disease “is still the second leading cause of cancer death in men and can be a very aggressive type of cancer.”
The American Cancer Society predicts that about 239,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, and nearly 30,000 men will lose their life to this disease. About one in six men will be diagnosed with it, and the average age at diagnosis is about 67. But, the Society noted, there are 2.5 million men in the U.S. who have survived the disease.
Some men are confused about prostate cancer and don’t understand the importance of screenings, according to Dr. Evans. The fact is that in any group of 70-year-old men, 60 to 70 percent will have prostate cancer, he said. And while it’s true most of those cases are slow growing and will never require treatment, some prostate cancers can progress quickly.
“I’ve seen men who are being treated for prostate cancer and had no idea they should have been screened for it,” Dr. Evans said. “It just never entered their consciousness.”
On the other hand, many men want to have the cancer treated immediately, even if it is not likely to be life threatening, Dr. Evans said. “It’s hard in our culture to sell the idea of active surveillance of this condition,” he noted. “But the sooner you find it, you can determine whether treatment is needed without delay, or whether you’re at low risk and can carefully observe it.”
Dr. Evans suggested that men who have no family history of prostate cancer start having PSA testing at age 50, and annually after that. Men with a family history should begin having screenings at age 40. Dr. Evans noted that African American men are at higher risk and should start at age 40.
“There is definitely a family connection in this disease,” he said. “If your father or older brothers have had it, your chances of also having it are very high.”
While genetic history has been confirmed as a risk, Dr. Evans said there is no clear evidence that behavioral risks are a factor in this disease.
Definitive treatment for prostate cancer may include surgical removal or radiation using a combination of intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and image guided radiation therapy (IGRT), which allow high doses of radiation to target the cancer while protecting surrounding healthy tissue.
SNMH clinical trials coordinator Pati Stinnett, RN, is organizing the September screening. She said men aged 40 to 75 are invited to participate, and may do so by calling her and setting up an appointment. The screening will be held in the SNMH Community Cancer Center living room starting at 5:30 p.m., continuing as long as appointments are scheduled, she said. Appointments may be made by calling her at 530-274-6635.
Stinnett explained that the screening will consist of a brief health history, a blood test for PSA, and – if requested – a digital rectal exam. A $20 fee will be requested to cover lab testing. PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen, and refers to the level of protein being produced by the prostate. (The higher the level, the higher the possibility that cancer is present).
The health history is voluntary, but is part of an important national effort by the Prostate Conditions Education Council to build a database to help identify risk factors and other aspects of men’s health. “The goal is for 100,000 men across the country to be part of this screening effort,” Stinnett said.
Local urologists Dr. Duncan Harris and Dr. Alan Wong, of Sierra Nevada Urology Medical, will conduct the screenings.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.