Prostate screening important for men’s health
Special to The Union
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in men in the U.S., second only to lung cancer, and is the most common type of cancer found in American men other than skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), one in seven men will get prostate cancer during his lifetime, and the ACS estimates that this year alone will show 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer and 27,540 deaths from the disease.
Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) Community Cancer Center wants to help ensure that the recovery rate for prostate cancer in our area is as high as possible by identifying and treating the disease early. That is why they are partnering in a clinical trial with the Prostate Conditions Education Council (PCEC) to offer prostate screenings from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Sept. 30 at the Cancer Center. The trial is part of a nationwide effort by PCEC during Prostate Cancer Awareness Week to ensure that men are screened for the disease.
The screening is only available to men ages 35-80 who agree to take part in the PCEC trial. (Interested participants may call 530-274-6635 to schedule a screening appointment.)
Consisting of a blood test to check PSA level and a digital rectal exam, the screening provides physicians with a broad picture of a patient’s prostate health. PSA is a protein that is secreted by the prostate which can help doctors determine if a man has an elevated risk for prostate cancer. If abnormal results are found in the screening, a patient will be referred for further evaluation.
Dr. Richard Evans, a radiation oncologist at the SNMH Community Cancer Center, shares that there has been some controversy surrounding PSA tests in recent years.
One reason, Evans explains, is that certain low-risk prostate cancer does not necessarily need to be treated. Treatment is dependent on a variety of factors. In some cases, the most prudent care is to use “active surveillance,” while others will require surgery, radiation, or hormone treatment.
“Many patients, upon hearing the word ‘cancer,’ want treatment. However, the best course of action in some cases is to monitor PSA levels at regular intervals,” Evans said.
“Prostate cancer is one of the few cancers for which we have a very clear marker in blood that we can look at and determine if a person might have cancer,” Evans continued.
Dan Tanner is one local man who is grateful that he had the PSA screening done five years ago during a routine physical. When his levels were found to be elevated, his primary care provider referred him to a local urologist.
During more screenings, Tanner’s PSA levels continued to rise and his urologist performed a biopsy which indicated that the cancer could spread to other organs if left untreated. He was referred to Dr. David Kraus, medical director of Radiation Oncology of the SNMH Community Cancer Center for treatment.
“I was in good hands at the Cancer Center. They gave me information about all of my options so that I could make up my own mind about the treatment I wanted.”
Tanner chose radiation over surgery, and credits the PSA screening, as well as the SNMH Cancer Center and the support of his partner, with saving his life.
“Dr. Kraus would even call me at home at times to make sure I was alright; I just can’t say enough for him and the other doctors there,” he said. “I’m healthy again and really enjoying daily living.”
With PSA levels holding low and steady, Tanner’s cancer appears to have been controlled. He now urges all men to have the screening.
Evans echoes that sentiment and advises that men start the screening at age 35 to get a baseline PSA, and continue testing every five years until age 50 when they may increase in frequency.
“I myself get PSA screening every year, even though my levels are low,” said Evans.
He also reiterates that not all prostate cancer is potentially deadly, and sometimes the treatment is more harmful than the disease. For men who have high-risk prostate cancer there is a clear benefit to treatment. PSA tests are also used to monitor men who have undergone treatment, watching for spikes in the count.
With any diagnosis of prostate cancer, however, an individual should speak to an oncologist to understand the best treatment options.
As further evidence that screenings improve outcomes, Evans shares that the mortality rate for prostate cancer has gone down 44 percent from 1993 to 2009.
“Prostate cancer is a disease of aging, and we are an aging population, so that number should be going up. I believe the screenings help catch cancer early and therefore treatment is more successful. We simply need to be mindful of how we handle that screening information,” he said.
To learn more about prostate cancer, visit http://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostatecancer/. To reach the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Community Cancer Center, call 530-274-6600.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.
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