When was the last time you screened yourself for prostrate cancer? Did your heart do triple time at the sight of this question? Are you yet to have your prostate checked? Prostate cancer is much more common than we realize. As the leading cause of cancer related deaths in Nigerian men, it is estimated to affect about 1 in 95 men older than 40 years in Nigeria.
It is useful to know the need and options for screening when you’re a man of African descent over 40yrs old and especially if your father, brother or son had it before turning 65 as these are reasons you may be at risk – risk factors. Other risk factors may include obesity, high intake of red meat and fatty foods.
Screening is done when you don’t have symptoms in order to detect it early and improve the chance of a cure. Like Nelson Mandela who was cured of prostate cancer and lived 28 years beyond his diagnosis, screening and early detection can indeed buy more years and health.
The first and least expensive test is the digital rectal examination (DRE). It involves your doctor inserting a lubricated and gloved finger through your anus to feel the prostate. Though it may be painful or make you feel vulnerable, you would usually be counselled and the lubricant used may contain an anaesthetic agent to kill the pain before you even feel it. At this stage, your doctor can assess your prostate for abnormal hardness and other features.
Usually, in men with an abnormal DRE and/or a high risk of having prostate cancer, a prostate-specific-antigen (PSA) test is done. Some blood is collected and screened in a lab. Normal values range from zero to four with anticipated normal increases as you get older.
The test result is not a stand-alone, it is considered alongside the risk factors. The PSA level can be high in the absence of cancer because benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or a prostate infection can also increase it. But the higher the PSA is, the more likely it is to be from cancer.
For some, a biopsy of the prostate may be required when the previous two tests do not give a clear answer or suggest that cancer may be present. This test requires the collection of bits of tissue from the prostate which would then be viewed under a microscope in search for cancerous changes. This test is most specific in that it picks up more true cases than the previous two.
Pooling your risk factors with your test results helps inform your doctor about the answer to the question we began with – do you have prostate cancer? If confirmed that you do, further tests are carried out to determine how aggressive it is, how far gone it is and what treatments would work for you. Picking it early, before you begin to have symptoms, is the best treatment for any cancer as the chance of a cure is much higher than otherwise.
If confirmed that you do not, great news! After celebrating it, be your brother’s keeper, spread the word and encourage the men around you to get screened. They may need your validation, support and experience. And don’t forget your next appointment.
Though September has been chosen as awareness month, we can save a life everyday. Please feel absolutely free to JOIN the conversation and share your fears, advice, experiences in the comments below.