Check in on Dad this Father’s Day
As we take time out on Father’s Day to celebrate that special man in our life – remember that good health is the most amazing gift.
As you acknowledge how special your dad is to you – check in on his health and encourage your dad to get a regular check up with his doctor. This is even more important for those living in rural and remote communities as early detection of diseases like prostate cancer can save his life!
As your dad ages, the risk of prostate cancer increases. The risk of getting prostate cancer by age 75 is 1 in 7. This increases to 1 in 6 by age 85.
About 18,000 men are diagnosed each year. Sadly, more than 3,300 Australian men die from prostate cancer each year. The good news is it can be treated if detected early.
Prostate cancer has one of the highest survival rates of all cancers. 95% of men likely to survive five years or more. About 220,000 Australian men are alive today after a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
So, what is the prostrate?
The prostate is a small gland located below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It surrounds the urethra, the passage that leads from the bladder. The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. It produces some of the fluid that makes up semen, which enriches and protects sperm. The prostate needs the male hormone testosterone to grow and develop.
In an adult, the prostate gland is usually about the size of a walnut. It is normal for it to grow larger as men age. Sometimes this can cause difficulty passing urine.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop in the prostate. These abnormal cells multiply and sometimes spread to other parts of the body. In most men, prostate cancer is a slow growing disease. If it stays inside the prostate gland and grows slowly, it may never cause a problem.
However, for some the cancer can grow quickly and impact life expectancy.
When cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, it is known as advanced or metastatic prostate cancer.
In addition to age, family history is a key factor in increasing the chance of prostate cancer.
Your dad may have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer if they have a father, brother or even a son who has been diagnosed. The risk increases if more than one close relative has prostate cancer. The risk is also higher when relatives were diagnosed young. A family history of other cancers, like breast and ovarian cancers, may also increase risk of prostate cancer.
The danger is that in the early stages of prostate cancer, there may be no symptoms – so that is why regular checks with a doctor are critical.
In later stages, symptoms might include:
- Feeling the frequent or sudden need to urinate
- Finding it difficult to urinate
- Discomfort when urinating
- Finding blood in urine or semen
- Pain in the lower back, upper thighs or hips.
These symptoms may not mean you have prostate cancer. But if you are worried about your symptoms, it is important that your Dad talks to his doctor.
So, what will the doctor do?
PSA is a protein produced by the prostate gland and higher than normal PSA levels could indicate prostate cancer. A doctor can do either a PSA blood test, a physical examination or organise a MRI scan.
Please remind your dad that a high PSA test result does not necessarily mean cancer – other prostate conditions can also raise PSA levels. If these tests indicate a possibility of prostate cancer, a biopsy may be required.
Digital rectal examination (DRE)
A doctor can feel the size and shape of the prostate gland by inserting a finger into the rectum. Often a prostate cancer can be felt this way, but a normal DRE result does not necessarily rule out prostate cancer.
Prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test
PSA is a protein produced by the prostate gland and a doctor can do either a PSA blood test, a physical examination or organise a MRI scan. If these tests indicate a possibility of prostate cancer, a biopsy may be required.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
An MRI scan assesses the size of the prostate and looks for any abnormalities. Dad will not be required to be admitted to a hospital. He will simply lie on a special bed that passes through a narrow tunnel while the scans are being taken. For those living in rural communities, services like Heart of Australia that offer the world’s first mobile and batter operated MRI scanner are life savers! It means those from rural communities do not have to leave their farm or community to travel to larger cities for such services.
A biopsy is a procedure where a needle is used to remove multiple small samples of tissue from the prostate gland. The samples are sent to a laboratory to determine if the cells are malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous).
A biopsy is the only way a definitive diagnosis of prostate cancer can be made.
Treatment for Prostate Cancer
The treatment a doctor recommends depends on the PSA result, the grade and stage of the cancer (how fast it is growing and how far it has spread), symptoms, overall health, and personal preferences.
If the cancer is considered low risk, your dad may be offered regular testing to monitor any changes. If the cancer changes, treatment may be required.
If the cancer is higher risk, consultations with several cancer specialists such as a urologist, radiation oncologist and/or medical oncologist may be required to discuss treatment options.
Your rural doctor is committed to caring for all members of the community. We understand how special dads and granddads are to our rural communities.
Give the gift of a long life and encourage your dad to see their rural GP regularly!
Source: Prostate Cancer Foundation Australia