In the ongoing search to find better and even more accurate ways to detect prostate cancer, doctor’s may have found a breakthrough of sorts, and it looks like it may come in the form of “man’s best friend”. Yes, you read that correctly. In addition to their value in helping navigate the blind, detect low blood sugar levels in diabetics, and assist those with mental health conditions (among the many other reasons to be big fans of our canine friends), doctors have been conducting studies using dogs as a means of early detection for prostate cancer. One recent study came back with amazing results, showing that dogs can smell aggressive Gleason 9 prostate cancers with remarkable accuracy! Now, does this mean that we’ll start seeing cancer-sniffing dogs in our offices any time soon? Well, not exactly. What this does mean, though, is that there is another potential means by which to detect this devastating disease that close to 250,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed this year.

What is prostate cancer?

The prostate is a small, walnut-sized gland that is located between your bladder and your rectum and produces a fluid that protects your sperm. Prostate cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in the tissue of the prostate. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in men (other than skin cancers) and is a treatable disease if detected early. Prostate is the second leading cause of cancer death in America, trailing only lung cancer. It is estimated that 34,000 men will lose their battle with prostate cancer this year, which makes it so important for men to be aware of the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer as well as engage in regular screening.   

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Unfortunately, most men with early-stage prostate cancer don’t experience any signs or symptoms. A primary reason for this is due to the nature of how the cancer grows. Symptoms usually appear if the cancer grows near the urethra, or the tube through which you urinate, and presses against it. This can impact the way that you urinate. However, prostate cancer usually begins to grow in a different part of the prostate where there is no or little impact on the urethra. Thus, early detection of prostate cancer is extremely difficult unless men are proactive in their prevention - including screenings. 

The reality is that different people experience different symptoms for prostate cancer. While the following symptoms could be signs of another condition besides prostate cancer, you should see your doctor right away if you experience: 

  • A difficulty in starting to urinate
  • Weak or interrupted flow of urine.
  • Frequent urination, especially at night.
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder completely.
  • Pain or burning during urination.
  • Blood in the urine or semen.
  • Pain in the back, hips, or pelvis that doesn’t go away.
  • Painful ejaculation.

If in fact the cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland, men may have other symptoms, including:

  • Swelling in the lower body
  • Back, hip or bone pain
  • Abnormal bowel or urinary habits
  • Unexplained weight loss.

What are the main two tests for prostate cancer?

The two tests that are predominantly used to detect prostate cancer are the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test and the DRE (digital rectal exam). The PSA test is a blood test, and most healthy men will register under 4 nanograms of the PSA per milliliter of blood. In a DRE, a doctor will insert a gloved, lubed finger into the rectum in an attempt to discover any abnormalities on the prostate that may require biopsies or other testing for cancer. This test is done in conjunction with the PSA, or the PSA can be done on its own. It’s important to note in relation to the PSA test, that high levels of the antigen don’t automatically lead to a cancer diagnosis just like lower PSA levels don’t necessarily mean there isn’t a problem. 

When should you get checked for prostate cancer?

The timetable for when a man should begin testing really depends on his risk profile and a discussion with his doctor. If a man is at an average risk of prostate cancer, then he should begin the conversation with his doctor about annual testing at the age of 50. If a man has an increased risk of prostate cancer (he is an African American or has a brother, father, or son that has been diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 65), then the conversation about testing should begin at age 40, or 45 at the latest. 

It really is remarkable to see the advancement of testing possibilities and detection when it comes to all cancers, but especially prostate cancer. The use of “man’s best friend'' is just one of many different types of studies being conducted to find better, more effective and accurate ways to detect cancer and precancers. It’s important, though, for men to do their part as well. We want the numbers related to prostate cancer to decrease, and dramatically. This can only be done if men make their personal health a priority and adhere to the recommendations of checkups and testings from their doctors. 

If you have questions about the health of your prostate, or realize that it is likely time to begin those conversations with your doctor, contact us today to schedule an appointment. We take your health seriously and look forward to serving you and helping you live your best life possible!