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One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes. But the risk for African American men is higher—75% higher.
“Starting in your early to mid-40s, engage in this discussion with your family doctor,” says, Oncologist Dr. E. Ronald Hale. “Be diligent about having regular prostate screening tests done.”
What are the risk factors?
According to Dr. Hale, the risk for prostate cancer in African American men is 75% higher than in white men who are the same age. And African American men have twice the risk of dying from it.
Typical risk factors include unhealthy eating and lack of exercise, which can increase the likelihood of developing prostate cancer and other potentially dangerous medical conditions.
Veterans of the Vietnam War should be also aware of their elevated risk.
“Men who served in Vietnam, or otherwise had any Agent Orange exposure should absolutely undergo regular testing,” Dr. Hale says. “That should also be reported to their local Veteran’s Affairs Hospital.”
And while prostate cancer has no known early warning signs, you can do a few things to help lower your overall risk.
How can you lower your risk?
“If you can reduce your risk of prostate cancer as well as other diseases, that is overall sound advice that is not just limited to prostate cancer,” says Dr. Hale.
Eating fruits and vegetables is proven to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer and other illnesses. And walking more can help reduce the risk of many different conditions as well.
Knowing how to reduce your risk is one step in the right direction. The best way to be proactive about the risk of prostate cancer is through getting regular screenings. The goal is to catch prostate cancer early, when it is more easily cured.
What screenings are available?
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests are recommended for African American men ages 45 and older. PSA is a blood test that checks for a protein that indicates whether a prostate is either enlarged or possibly has prostate cancer.
How often should you receive a screening? That is up to your doctor.
“It’s important to have a discussion with your doctor to determine the best interval and when to start screening the patient,” Dr. Hale says.
You might need screened annually—or more often, depending on your risk factors and history. Your doctor will look for a continuous rise in PSA, not necessarily a high PSA after one test.
“I’m less concerned about a man in his 70s with a high PSA than I am with a younger man who has what looks like a normal PSA that is rising consistently. It is the rise and rate of rise that indicates we may have a cancer that’s growing.”
When it comes to a treatment plan, Dr. Hale says that, in some cases, no treatment is the best treatment.
Do you need treatment?
Getting tested or diagnosed with prostate cancer does not necessarily mean you need treatment. The key determiner is the severity.
Dr. Hale says, “Not all prostate cancers are created equal.”
Some cancers are aggressive, while others can be monitored with active surveillance. It all depends on your individual case.
“There are ways to treat it so that it can be cured, and it never comes back,” says Dr. Hale. “There are times when a prostate cancer may not necessitate treatment and it can be safely watched.” Dr. Hale’s biggest encouragement is to start the conversation with your doctor or healthcare provider.