Stay educated on prostate cancer

Regular visits with a health care professional are an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Checkups are not just about examining your blood pressure and other vitals; they are also a great time to talk to your health care professional about screening recommendations for you based on your health and risk factors for certain diseases. For men, scheduling a visit to talk about prostate cancer is critical because early stages of the disease often don’t show symptoms — and while screening is available, there are pros and cons to getting screened, and it’s important to talk to your doctor about what is right for you. September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, so now is the time to learn more about the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

Who is at risk for prostate cancer? The disease most often affects men age 65 and older. African-American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men, and are more than two times as likely to die from it. Those who have a family history of prostate cancer are also at increased risk. Genetic predisposition may be to blame for up to 10 percent of prostate cancer cases.

What are the symptoms? While early stages of prostate cancer often don’t show symptoms, and you may never experience symptoms, more advanced stages can cause trouble urinating, blood in the urine or semen, erectile dysfunction, or pain in the lower back, pelvis or upper thighs. You should talk to a health care professional immediately if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

How is prostate cancer screened? Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing is the primary screening method for prostate cancer. Higher PSA levels in the blood are often found in men with prostate cancer, although cancer is not always the cause of elevated PSA levels.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation encourages men age 50 and older to begin talking to your health care professional about whether screening is right for you based on your personal risk factors. African-American men or those with a family history of the disease should begin the conversation sooner.

While screening can lead to early detection of prostate cancer and can save lives, the PSA test is not always correct; it may indicate cancer that doesn’t exist, or fail to show cancer that is present. Positive tests may lead some men to be treated for cancers that would never cause them harm, resulting in unnecessary side effects. Talking with your health care professional can help you weigh the possible benefits and harms of the test.

We need more research on prostate cancer to determine better ways to prevent, detect and treat this disease. For overall good health, maintain a healthy body weight, eat lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, get regular exercise and visit your health care professional. Be sure to include a conversation about prostate cancer in your next visit if you are at risk. To find out more, visit


Mary G. McKinley, RN, MSN, CCRN, is a critical care nurse, educator and member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program. She is the wife of U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va.