Prostate Cancer: What you should know
Air Force Master Sgt. Sam Mullins, second from the left, participated in an organized event earlier in September to raise awareness for prostate cancer. He was joined by his wife, Sharon, and his children, Audrey and Ethan. Dr. Matthew Stringer, far left, who helped operate on Mullin’s cancer, participated in the event as well. (Photo Courtesy of Sam Mullins)
ONe in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime but when detected early, the disease is highly treatable. The Military Health System is encouraging men to learn more about this cancer and its risks.
While the cancer is rarely found in men younger than 40, the diagnosis can happen – just ask Air Force Master Sgt. Sam Mullins. After going to the doctor’s office for unrelated symptoms and getting a range of tests done, his physician noticed his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels were higher than normal for his age. In 2015, he was diagnosed with stage two prostate cancer. He was 37 years old.
“It was the furthest thing from my mind to hear the word cancer,” said Mullins. He had robotic surgery to remove the cancer. He now gets his PSA levels checked every three months. While he is younger than the average age of diagnosis, Mullins was at increased risk for the cancer since he has a family history. Mullins’ father had been diagnosed with it just a year or two before he was.
“If prostate cancer runs in your family, [cancer screening] can help save your life potentially down the road,” said Mullins. “If I hadn’t had this done, I probably wouldn’t have found out until it was too late and spread outside the prostate.”
Army Maj. George Kallingal, assistant professor in surgery at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and urologic oncologist at San Antonio Military Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said men who have a male relative with a history of prostate cancer, are 40 or older, or are African-American have a higher risk of developing the cancer. There is no definite way to prevent prostate cancer, but avoiding smoking and eating healthy can help and early detection is crucial, he said.
“Because there are usually no symptoms of prostate cancer, screening can be a very important tool to identify and treat the cancer early while it’s still confined to the prostate and potentially curable,” said Dr. Kallingal.
Although men between the ages of 40 and 55 do not typically benefit from routine screening for prostate cancer, men who are at a higher risk for it should talk to their physicians about getting screened, said Kallingal. Prostate cancer typically affects older men. However, it is still possible for younger men to be at increased risk or be diagnosed with the cancer.
According to the American Urology Association, men age 55 and older are recommended to screen for prostate cancer through a PSA blood test every two years. Kallingal says men between the ages of 55 and 70 should discuss whether or not to be screened with their physicians. This way, a decision can be reached based on the patient’s preferences and the doctor’s recommendations. Not all cases of prostate cancer require treatment and many options exist for those who choose not to receive treatment. One such option is monitoring the cancer – known as active surveillance.
“Knowing if you have the cancer and then understanding the prostate cancer and its treatments will help get the appropriate treatment to the men who need them the most,” said Kallingal. “We have better and more treatments today than we had 10 years ago.”
In addition to active surveillance, treatment options can include radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy, among others.
“Spreading awareness about prostate cancer and getting educated on it helps people down the road,” said Mullins. “If I can help save one person from going through advanced-stage prostate cancer when they can catch it early, that’s very, very important to me.”
Information on prostate cancer can be found on the Department of Defense’s Center for Prostate Disease Research website. For coverage details on prostate cancer screening, please visit the TRICARE website. For additional content on prostate cancer, please visit Health.mil.