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Seniors Series: Early detection key to surviving prostate cancer

Screening test may be advised for men as young as 40

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States for men.

John Muir Medical Center, like other top medical facilities in the country, is committed to placing the odds in favor of men by providing comprehensive screening and early detection options, accurate diagnosis, innovative treatment options, and a swift and highly effective recovery process to return patients to the same quality of life they enjoyed before receiving treatment.

One of the most effective methods for getting the upper hand on prostate cancer is early detection. When and how often you should get a screening test depends on various risks.

I encourage patients to begin having discussions with their physician about a prostate cancer screening test when they reach 40 years of age. If you are African-American or have a relative who's had prostate cancer, you are at a higher risk and should consult with your doctor to determine your personal screening frequency.

With most forms of urologic cancer, there are oftentimes no obvious symptoms, making early detection even more critical. However, those experiencing urinary pain, discomfort or change in frequency should see a doctor immediately.

There are two primary diagnostic tests for prostate cancer. Doctors often perform a digital rectal examination to feel for any abnormalities in the prostate gland that could be an indicator of cancer. If the prostate is normal, it will be soft like a sponge. An abnormal prostate on the other hand, will be hard like a marble and require further testing.

The second test is a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, which tests the levels of PSA in your blood. Having an elevated PSA level does not necessarily indicate you will develop prostate cancer. However, it may lead to further diagnostic tests or a more regular screening schedule.

Just a few years ago, if a PSA test was elevated and/or a nodule was present on the prostate, doctors would immediately proceed to a biopsy. Such is not the case in this era of advanced innovation in medicine.

Today, elevated PSA levels or the presence of nodules may result in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the prostate which is highly reliable (90% accurate) and eliminates roughly 60% of unnecessary biopsies. John Muir Medical Center Walnut Creek employs a state-of-the-art Siemens Magnetom Skyra 3 Tesla MRI scanner, capable of performing an exam without endorectal coil placement, resulting in improved patient comfort and excellent image quality.

When caught early, prostate cancer is highly treatable. Because prostate cancer is often a slow-growing cancer, doctors may discuss the possibility of putting you on "active surveillance" in which they clinically follow the cancer with routine PSA tests and, if necessary, biopsies, before committing to any treatment options.

If treatment is necessary, such highly innovative procedures as the Robotic Assisted Radical Prostatectomy using the Da Vinci robot -- with robotic arms -- are available, entering through the patient's belly button and removing the prostate from the abdomen. This remarkable procedure carries a host of benefits including minimal pain, early hospital dismissal, and little bleeding/scarring.

Radiation therapy has also made great strides in the fight against prostate cancer. The Calypso Beacon System, which utilizes transponders to identify tumors, is an example of one system that offers exceptional outcomes through highly targeted, high dose therapy.

Prostate cancer is by no means a death sentence, especially in this age of advanced medicine. Thanks to effective, minimally invasive treatment options, men with prostate cancer are living longer, healthier lives with fewer treatment-related side effects to either their urinary or sexual functionality.

What's imperative however, is to diagnose prostate cancer in its earliest stages. This can be done with screening and early detection, especially for those that have a history or predisposition to the same.

Consult with your doctor, get the facts, and make the most informed decision about your personal course of action.

Editor's note: Dr. Stephen Taylor, a urologist at John Muir Health, is certified by the American Board of Urology and is a member of the Impotence Institute of America. He has practiced in the area since 1980.

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