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Monthly Health Topics

Raising Awareness Around Men's Health Issues

By Susan Beane, M.D.

If you notice that more men have recently started sporting some facial hair, know that it’s not just because they’re trying to shield their faces from the cold. As part of November’s annual Movember movement, men grow out facial hair—particularly moustaches—to raise awareness about health issues that affect men. Prostate cancer is one such health issue. Recently, I had an opportunity to talk about this important topic with Dr. Marc Bjurlin, Director of Urologic Oncology at St. Barnabas Hospital and Health System and Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center.

Susan Beane, M.D.: How common is prostate cancer?

Marc Bjurlin, M.D.: Aside from skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. In 2014, more than 233,000 American men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, and just under 30,000 will die from the disease. It’s also the second most common cause of cancer deaths in men, behind lung cancer.

Dr. Beane: What are some of the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer?

Dr. Bjurlin: The signs of prostate cancer are fairly vague. Often, there are no symptoms at all, and the only way we make the diagnosis is through screening, which is why screening is so important.

Dr. Beane: Is prostate cancer treatable?

Dr. Bjurlin: When detected early, prostate cancer is very treatable. Among men who are diagnosed in the early stages, nine out of ten can expect to live at least 15 years. For men whose cancer is detected later, treatment becomes more difficult, and most men won’t reach five years. That’s why it’s so important to get screened, so we can catch it early.

Dr. Beane: When should men start getting screened?

Dr. Bjurlin: There’s some disagreement in the medical community, but the latest guidelines are that men with a risk factor should start getting screened between the ages of 45 and 49, and that by age 50 all men should be screened regularly.

Dr. Beane: What are some of the risk factors for prostate cancer?

Dr. Bjurlin: The biggest risk factor for prostate cancer is age, as our risk of developing the disease increases as we get older. Race and ethnicity also play a role—African-American and Jamaican men are at highest risk. Family history is also a big risk factor. Having a father or brother who’s had prostate cancer more than doubles your risk of developing prostate cancer. Diet and obesity play a role as well.

Dr. Beane: How is prostate cancer treated?

Dr. Bjurlin: Prostate cancer actually does not always need treatment. Men with slow-growing prostate cancer can be candidates for active surveillance, which means we can wait and monitor it to make sure it’s not getting worse. In men with more aggressive types, there are a variety of treatment options, including surgery and radiation.

Dr. Beane: We know it’s important to get screened, but screening can be uncomfortable. What do you say to your patients about that?

Dr. Bjurlin: I always remind my patients that they’re not just getting screened for themselves; they’re also doing it for their families and loved ones. The screening is quick and painless, and it takes less than 10 seconds. Afterwards, I always ask my patients if it was as bad as they thought it would be, and they always say no. So don’t be scared to get screened.

Dr. Beane is Vice President and Medical Director at Healthfirst®. For more tips on leading a healthier lifestyle, visit the Healthfirst website at www.healthfirst.org.

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