Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among men. The cancer originates in the prostate gland, a male sex gland that's the size of a walnut, located just below the bladder. Prostate cancer is highly treatable when caught early, and early detection requires an annual trip to the doctor's office.
Sounds straightforward, right? Well, doctors say it's not so simple.
"Men don't like to come to the doctor," says Dr. Charles Yockey. "Unless they have a bone sticking out somewhere, they just don't come to the doctor. It's extremely difficult to get them in for a yearly exam when they feel fine."
That decision could be deadly for some men. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer kills about 32,000 American men every year. Yockey says it's the second most common cancer death in nonsmokers and the third most common in smokers.
However, the younger the victim, the deadlier it is. Yockey says prostate cancer is more likely to spread to the pelvis, the bones and eventually the rest of the body in a younger male.
"In fact, it's usually spread before it's diagnosed in men under 50, unless they're getting a yearly prostate exam," he said. "Prostate cancer in men under 50 is a total disaster and extremely difficult to treat."
For older men, however, prostate cancer is not as aggressive.
"Every man who lives long enough will get prostate cancer. It's a disease of aging," Yockey says, "Every man that reaches age 90 has prostate cancer, he just doesn't know it." He says prostate cancer is often a benign condition in older men. In fact, it's often left untreated. Yockey says that's because the treatment is, sometimes, worse than the disease as far as side effects and complications.
Unfortunately, doctors know little about the causes of prostate cancer. They speculate that a poor diet and nicotine contribute to the disease, but research does not support that.
Yockey says many incidences of prostate cancer are hereditary, though. But, it's also treatable. Some men undergo chemotherapy and radiation. Others have the prostate completely removed. Yockey says treatments are tailored to the person's stage of cancer and their age.
Because prostate cancer has no symptoms, and a self-check is impossible, Yockey says every male over age 40 should have an annual prostate exam by his doctor. It's quick, it's inexpensive and most importantly, it could save a life.