Let’s say you never change your oil regularly as recommended. You’re subjecting your engine to more wear and tear than necessary and taking the risk of a catastrophic failure.
Our bodies react much the same way if we don’t give them proper care. Someone who is having symptoms but won’t go to the doctor for fear of getting bad news is a lot like the motorist who ignores the check engine light. The solution could be as simple as tightening your car’s gas cap or as costly as replacing the catalytic converter. But you won’t know until you check it out.
Women are used to having annual gynecology exams and mammograms, which can help alert their doctor to the presence of various cancers and other health issues. But how many men get a regular physical and prostate screening?
Prostate cancer is one of the most treatable malignancies if caught early. The cancer begins in tissues of the prostate gland, which produces semen and is located just below the bladder.
By age 50, about half of all men experience small changes in the size and shape of the cells in the prostate. It’s a normal part of the aging process. But sometimes those changes are a sign of prostate cancer. A doctor’s exam and diagnostic tests can help distinguish the difference.
Because the prostate gland is so close to the bladder and the urethra, the tube through which men release urine from their body, prostate cancer may be accompanied by various urinary symptoms. For example, a tumor may press on and narrow the urethra, making it difficult to urinate or hindering the ability to start and stop the flow.
Here are other urinary symptoms of prostate cancer:
- Burning or pain during urination;
- More frequent urge to urinate at night;
- Loss of bladder control
- Blood in the urine.
Additional symptoms of prostate cancer are: blood in the semen; erectile dysfunction; swelling in the legs or pelvic area; and numbness or pain in the hips, legs or feet.
If left unchecked, prostate cancer may spread, or metastasize, to nearby bones or tissues. One sign that this has happened may be bone pain that won’t go away or that leads to fractures.
Prostate cancer can often be detected in its early stages by testing the amount of prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, in a man’s blood. Or a doctor may perform a digital rectal exam by inserting a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland for any hard or lumpy areas.
Unfortunately, neither of those initial tests for prostate cancer is perfect. A man with a mildly elevated PSA may not have prostate cancer, while a patient with prostate cancer may have a normal PSA reading. The digital exam isn’t foolproof, either, because it only assesses the back part of the prostate gland. A biopsy of tissue from the prostate may be needed to confirm, or deny, a preliminary diagnosis.
Thus, there’s still a debate over the value of regular prostate cancer screenings because of the risk of overtreating malignancies that may not be fatal. However, researchers have concluded that preventive screening can reduce a man’s risk of dying from the disease.
And there’s no disputing that catching any cancer in its early stages is the best medicine.