Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Most men pondering the effects of prostate cancer — including Mercy surgeon and prostate cancer survivor Greg Boone, MD — fully agree. During Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (and throughout the rest of the year), we want to arm men with the power to understand the purpose of screening and when to get screened.
First, you need to find out if you are at risk. It’s best to have a discussion with your doctor during your routine check-up and have any questions ready. Here is a list of frequent questions you may find yourself thinking about.
- Am I at risk for prostate cancer?
- When should I start getting screened for prostate cancer?
- What are screening tests and how often should I do this?
- Is there anything I can do to lessen my risk of getting prostate cancer?
Who is at risk?
Research has found that men who have a close family member such as a father or brother with prostate cancer are at increased risk. There is definitely a genetic component; however, discussing this early with your doctor can help you set up a screening plan. Unfortunately, research has shown that African American men also have a greater risk of developing prostate cancer. African American men should definitely discuss prostate cancer screening and family history as part of a routine physician office visit.
What is involved with prostate cancer screening?
There are two simple tests along with your risk assessment that can help screen for prostate cancer. First, there is the digital rectal exam that can be performed by your doctor at your routine visit. Your doctor manually feels for any abnormal bumps or lumps and can refer you for additional testing if they are suspicious of any finding. Additionally, your doctor may order a blood test called prostate specific antigen or PSA which can indicate if further evaluation is needed.
These are the main screening techniques that you should discuss; however, not all doctors agree on the exact time point to start these tests. It’s important to know your body and be able to bring any concern to your doctor’s attention with the goal of earlier diagnosis and treatment. Ignoring a body symptom that isn’t a part of your normal everyday feeling will not make the problem go away! Don’t make excuses just get things checked out!
If you do happen to have a positive test or abnormal symptoms, don’t focus your energy on stressing yourself out. A new symptom doesn’t necessarily mean you have prostate cancer. If cancer is found, it is typically better to diagnose and treat at an earlier stage of the disease. A majority of people are cured if cancer is found and treated early on.
How can I reduce my risk for prostate cancer?
You cannot change your genetics and race however; you can incorporate a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk or severity of many unwanted diseases including cancer. Healthy living is not limited to but included in the following.
Healthy lifestyles you can control
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a well-balanced diet that includes tomatoes & tomato products, vegetables like broccoli & cauliflower, and green tea & soy beans
- Limit alcohol, red meats, and fats
- Get routine exercise
- Don’t smoke
Nothing can totally eliminate your risks, but these can certainly support health and wellness for the life you’ve got to live!
Mercy Surgeon’s Cancer Diagnosis Brings New Understanding To Caring for Patients
Dr. Greg Boone is a general surgeon at Mercy who also performs many breast cancer surgeries each year. What many people don’t know about Dr. Boone is that he is a prostate cancer survivor. Dr. Boone shares with us the importance of early screening and detection along with his thoughts on how prostate cancer has made him a better doctor:
Despite having told innumerable people that they had cancer, I was completely unprepared to be on the receiving end of that news. At age 43, I was given the unlikely news that I had prostate cancer. One week later, I was the one lying on the operating table instead of standing beside it, as I underwent a radical prostatectomy. Despite surgery going well, I just couldn’t convince myself that I wasn’t going to die from my disease anyway. The fear was nearly crippling and, contrary to what you might think, given my medical background as a breast cancer surgeon, I had no idea how to deal with it.
In many years of caring for breast cancer patients, I could never understand how some patients failed to go for their follow-up mammograms after their diagnosis. Sure the follow-up might reveal a new or recurrent problem, but not getting the mammogram didn’t make the problem disappear—it just prevented early intervention. It was only when I went to my first post-op PSA and was faced with the prospect of learning that my tumor had not been completely removed or had spread that I finally learned how powerfully fear could impact behavior. I understood. I almost didn’t go for that blood test, and when I did, I was nearly paralyzed by the fear of what it might show.
It took me months, and a literal smack on the back of the head by a psychiatrist friend, before I realized that the only way to get beyond my fear was to begin talking about it. This is where my breast cancer patients came to the rescue. I began to share with my patients that I too had cancer. It was amazing: as soon as I told them, I was no longer this stranger in a white coat threatening them with surgical scalpels and drugs. I was one of them! We could sit and cry together. I could tell them my story, and how scared I was—even as a surgeon who studied and practiced medicine every day—and told them that it was okay for them to be scared too. I’d been there. I understood.