Prostate cancer awareness

When Caldwell resident Noel McFarland received a diagnosis of prostate cancer nine years ago, he immediately thought, “This is the end.”

“When you hear that word ‘cancer,’ you think you’re dead,” said McFarland, 75.

But McFarland’s doctor told him that knowing what he had meant they knew how to treat it. After hormone shots, radiation treatments and seed implants, McFarland is cancer-free and working in his barber shop daily.

It was a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test that alerted McFarland’s doctor to the situation. McFarland said he’d been getting the screening for years, starting in his early 50s.

“I went every year. I had a friend or two who had it, so I was listening to them,” he said.

September is prostate cancer awareness month but McFarland spreads the word all year round, recommending the test to any man over 50.

“I don’t care if you’re healthy as heck,” he said.

The American Cancer Society recommends men discuss the prospect of a prostate cancer screening with their doctor to learn about “the uncertainties, risks and potential benefits.”

That discussion should take place at age 50 for men who have an average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years, according to information provided by Amy Magorien, health initiatives representative for the Cancer Society’s East Central Division. For men at high risk – including African Americans and men with a father, brother or son diagnosed with the disease before age 65 – screening should be discussed at 45. If a man has more than one close relative who was diagnosed at an earlier age, 40 is the recommended starting point.

The ACS emphasizes that the decision of actually getting screened should be made on an individual basis by a man and his doctor. According to the Mayo Clinic website, www.mayoclinic.com, there is a “lack of firm evidence that screening can prevent deaths from prostate cancer.”

In 2012, the United States Preventive Services Task Force actually advised against having the PSA blood test done because there was no significant benefit and the risks outweigh the benefits. An elevated PSA count can be caused by factors other than cancer, so a false-positive could result, causing anxiety and unnecessary follow-up tests, that may result in complications. If prostate cancer is correctly diagnosed, there is no way to tell whether it is one that is aggressive or one that won’t cause a problem. That, the task force said, could result in overtreatment.

Diane Mayle, registered nurse and patient navigator with Camden Clark Medical Center’s Comprehensive Community Cancer Center, said most men don’t die from prostate cancer, but from other causes. However, some forms of the cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

“If it’s left untreated and it’s what they call aggressive, it can metastisize,” she said.

According to The End of Prostate Cancer, a national nonprofit organization, prostate cancer found when still contained in the gland itself has a 99 percent survival rate. Once it spreads beyond that, it is more dangerous.

Mayle agrees with the ACS recommendation to make the decision on testing with a physician.

“I think a good relationship with your primary care physician is important to any of our health care needs,” she said.

According to the Cancer Society, the causes of prostate cancer are still unknown, making prevention difficult. Still, there are some steps men can take that may lower their risk and will benefit their overall health anyway.

“We can’t change our age or family history or race, so that’s something we have to deal with,” Mayle said. “Diet and exercise and weight, we can control those.”

According to the Cancer Society, research has suggested overweight men may have slightly less risk of developing prostate cancer overall, but a higher risk of the type of prostate cancers that are likely to be fatal. Regular physical activity, meanwhile, lowers the risk of prostate cancer slightly.

There appears to be a link to diet with men who eat a lot of red meat or high-fat diary products having a higher chance of developing prostate cancer. But the actual reason might be that these men tend to eat less fruits and vegetables.

Some studies suggest consuming a high amount of calcium could increase the risk, but other studies have found no link with calcium in the average diet, and the Cancer Society notes calcium is known to have other positive health effects.