'Exciting' advances in prostate cancer research this year
The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 161,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with the prostate cancer this year alone.
FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Prostate cancer may be thought of as a disease that primarily impacts older men, but all men – regardless of age – should be aware of their risk. It is the second most common cancer among males in the United States, behind only skin cancer. But there is good news: It’s highly treatable if detected early.
“Many men die with prostate cancer and not from it,” said Army Lt. Col. Dustin Boyer, Office of the Surgeon General Consultant for Radiation Oncology at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii. Roughly one in six males will be diagnosed with it in his lifetime. The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 161,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease this year alone. Nearly all of them – more than 98 percent – will be alive five years after diagnosis.
“We’ve seen some pretty exciting advances over the past year, from a better understanding of the genetics of prostate cancer to improved imaging modalities and targeted drugs,” said Boyer. A recent study of a personalized genetic test has proven to predict the risk of prostate cancer returning after prostate gland removal or radiotherapy, he said. The test identifies abnormal genetic DNA of the prostate cancer and its oxygen content.
“The studies suggest that this information can predict with almost 80 percent accuracy, and in about three days, the prostate cancer patients who are at greatest risk of recurrence,” said Boyer. “This is a good thing because identifying patients who will [most likely] die from other causes will allow us to follow these patients and avoid the side effects of treatment. It will also identify patients who are likely to die from the disease [if untreated] and thus should be treated more aggressively.”
Although the chance of developing prostate cancer increases with age, younger men can still be at risk. Men who are 40 or older, have a male relative with a history of prostate cancer, or are African-American have a higher risk of developing the cancer.
In the past, men age 50 or older were encouraged to have a prostate-specific antigen blood test – also known as a PSA test – every year to screen for prostate cancer. In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against PSA screening, citing that the slow-growing disease is often overdiagnosed and overtreated. The task force concluded that the side effects of treatment, as well as the psychological and emotional distress of diagnosis, can do more harm than good. Side effects can include urinary, bowel, or erectile dysfunction, fatigue, pain, vomiting, and nausea, among others.
Since prostate cancer advances slowly, not all cases require treatment. Patients can discuss alternative options with their physician, such as monitoring the cancer – known as active surveillance. The American Urology Association recommends males age 55 to 69 get screened every two years, and recommends discussing PSA testing with a doctor.
“If you have any concerns about your risk for prostate cancer, it’s best to talk to your primary care provider about the risks and benefits of PSA screening,” said Boyer. Early stages of the disease do not show symptoms. Signs of more advanced prostate cancer are trouble urinating, blood in urine, and discomfort in the pelvic area.
There is no definitive way to prevent prostate cancer, but there are things men can do that might lower their risk, said Boyer. These include eating a nutritious diet, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight. A diet that includes at least two-and-a-half cups of a wide variety of vegetables and fruits each day can’t hurt, he added.
“It’s important to spread awareness about prostate cancer,” said Boyer. “It may not impact your life right now, but knowing what to look out for and what questions to ask can help later on in life.”