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Prostate Cancer: A Family History

I’ll never forget getting that call. Five years ago, my mother phoned me at the magazine I was working for at the time with a shakiness in her voice. “Is this a good time to talk,” she asked. I quickly glanced down at my watch and did a brief scan of my office. It was a deadline week and the buzz from my colleagues was electric. We’re really not supposed to take personal calls during office hours, but the worry in her voice hastened my response, “Of course, just give me a minute.”

As I walked outside into the crisp fall air with the phone glued to my ear, my heart dropped when she said, “It’s your dad. He had some labs done, and well, his PSA came back abnormal. We don’t know everything yet but the doctor thinks it could be cancer. We’re headed to get a biopsy now.”

Stats:

More men will have prostate cancer than women will have breast cancer. 1 in 9 men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. 1 in 6 African American will get prostate cancer. 1 in 5 men who have a relative with prostate cancer will also develop it.

My father fits into two of the above statistic categories as his father, my grandfather, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery, (a prostatectomy), to remove part of the prostate gland. This medical history along with two years of an elevated PSA range put my dad at greater risk for getting prostate cancer in his lifetime.

PSA 101:

The reason the PSA, (or protein specific antigen), a protein produced by the prostate gland and mostly found in semen, is an indicator that something could be awry is because more PSA is produced when there is a problem with the prostate; for example, the growth and development of prostate cancer which begins in the tissues of the walnut-sized prostate gland located just below the bladder will often signal an increase of PSA, thus providing clues that more needs to be done to diagnose the possible cancer.

So what then is a normal PSA range? A normal PSA can vary for men by age and ethnic group, but the below chart is a good reference point. Typically, the PSA level will be a bit higher in older men.


If you are in your …

Your normal PSA range should be …

40s

0–2.5 ng/mL

50s

0–4 ng/mL

60s

0–4.5 ng/mL

70s

0–6.5 ng/mL

Risk Factors and Symptoms:

Though an increased PSA is informative, it is not indicative of whether or not someone may have prostate cancer. There are several other factors that are taken into consideration before a physician will suggest additional testing for prostate cancer when a PSA is done. For example, there may be other health issues going on that have caused a high PSA or a spike in the PSA range such as an enlarged prostate gland, Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, Prostatitis, a Urinary Tract Infection or certain medications can also increase a PSA level.

Risk factors are any characteristics that increase your chance of getting a disease. In prostate cancer specifically, risk factors include age, family history, diet, high testosterone levels, race and lifestyle. Symptoms are also important to pay attention to and can include burning or pain during urination, trouble starting and stopping the flow of urine, frequent urination, loss of bladder control, blood in urine, blood in semen, swelling in legs or pelvic area and numbness in the hips, legs, or feet.

The Biopsy:

Once my father’s elevated PSA level was determine, his doctor considered this along with his existing symptoms and risk factors and the decision was made to move forward with a biopsy to determine the presence or extent (if any) of prostate cancer.

As my parents sat in the waiting room, not many words were spoken but thoughts were rushing through both of their heads. Holding hands, they stared blankly at the educational posters on the wall in front of them, hoping, praying and waiting to be called back to discuss my father’s prostate biopsy results. Though age, an elevated PSA, a family history with his father having prostate cancer before him and frequent urination were all indicators of a possible diagnosis, until a biopsy was performed, nothing was certain.

After what seemed like an eternity, my parents were finally called back to speak with the physician, who greeted them smiling. The biopsy came back benign; my father was cancer free! It is encouraging to note that even while incidence rates are high for prostate cancer, if caught early, the chance of the cancer spreading or a man dying from prostate cancer is generally low. In fact, 95% of prostate cancers are identified when still confined to the prostate and have not yet spread to anywhere else in the body.

Even though there is much optimism and progress associated with prostate cancer over the past ten years in the United States, it is important to remember that it can still be a deadly disease. While my dad is truly fortunate to be cancer-free, he is still at a higher risk than average for developing prostate cancer over the course of his life.

Monitoring Prostate Health:

In order to take care of himself and check up on his prostate health, my father gets his PSA level evaluated each year along with an annual rectal exam to be sure things are on track for remaining cancer free. He has also implemented several behavioral strategies like eating healthier, making healthier lifestyle choices by minimizing stress as much as possible, increasing his fluid intake and exercising regularly. These choices have allowed him to thrive over the past five years and take ownership over his health, and his life, so he can enjoy recreational activities with his friends and spend time playing with his grandchildren.

It is encouraging to read stories like my father’s, who as a high a risk patient, had a benign biopsy and is monitoring his prostate health diligently to this day, or even my grandfather’s, who survived prostate cancer after a successful prostatectomy and lived until he was 92 years old when he passed away from natural causes in the comfort of his home, although we absolutely recognize that not every family is so lucky. This is why I urge all men to take the proper precautions with this disease by getting screened, leading a healthy lifestyle, monitoring potential risk factors and paying attention to symptoms.

If you or anyone you know has been putting off a prostate screening or would like more information or be interested in discussing anything surrounding prostate cancer in greater detail, please let us know. Make an appointment with Dr. Kenneson and let us help take care of you by making sure that you are pre-screening, preventing and if needed, getting treatment for prostate cancer. The best thing you can do is to know your risk by talking with your physician and get your healthcare game plan together before one is even needed.

Author
Lauren

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