Approximately 30,000 men die of prostate cancer every year, making it the second-most-deadly form of cancer for men, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Yet if the cancer is detected and treated in its earliest stages, the five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent, says Dr. E. David Crawford, founder and chairman of the Prostate Conditions Education Council.
'From talking with prostate cancer patients over the years, we know that in 60 to 70 percent of those cases, it was the significant other who drove those men in for initial screening,' Crawford says.
Denver resident Anne Franklin, whose father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, says her mother's insistence compelled her father to get tested. 'Mom got him there in the first place, literally and figuratively next to him the entire time,' Franklin says. 'Mom made appointments, went along, took notes and was very actively involved.'
'Women's role in helping preserve the prostate health of the men in their lives can't be understated,' Crawford says. 'It's as important to educate women about prostate health as it is men.'
Know the risks
Even though women don't have a prostate, it's important they know the basics about prostate health. The gland, found just below the bladder, produces most of the fluid that transports and nourishes sperm. More than half of adult men will develop an inflammation of the prostate - called prostatitis - at some point in their lives, but the inflammation doesn't necessarily lead to cancer.
All men older than 40 should get an initial prostate health screening, Crawford says. Some groups, however, are at higher risk for prostate cancer than others. Risks rise after age 50, with six out of 10 cases occurring in men older than 65, according to the ACS. Other risk factors the ACS cites include:
* Race - African-American men are at higher risk of getting prostate cancer, and it is more likely to be fatal. Prostate cancer is less likely in Asian and Hispanic populations.
* Family history - Men who have a close male relative, such as a father or brother, who've had prostate cancer have more than twice the risk of developing the disease too.
* Genetics - Researchers have identified some genes that seem associated with prostate risk.
* Lifestyle - Eating a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products, and fewer fruits and vegetables, may slightly elevate risks. Obesity likely elevates risks, multiple studies have indicated.
Begin the conversation
'As men, we tend to think we're invincible,' Crawford says. 'And most men don't like to talk about health issues in general.'
'Talking about health issues can be emotionally tough for women and men, especially with cancer because the word itself is too terrifying,' Franklin agrees. 'But women need to bite the bullet and do it for the men. Good resources online make it easier to initiate the conversation.'
Because discussing prostate health can be difficult, Crawford suggests women take the initiative for their loved ones and make a screening appointment. 'Especially with a spouse, women can make the point that decisions to monitor health are part of their partnership, and that both parties want to grow together and be healthy together,' he says. 'Women who are in the habit of going to their doctor for regular ob/gyn screenings can take the approach 'When I get checked, you should get checked.' '
The important thing to remember, according to Crawford, is that more information provides more choices for a patient. Even if cancer is found, when detected early, there are many non-aggressive options, including the wait-and-watch approach.
Get men moving
Initial prostate cancer screening is a simple blood test and a rectal exam. After the initial, baseline test, men (and the women supporting them) should work with their doctors to schedule follow up testing on a regular basis. Just as women have an annual mammogram or pap smear, men should monitor their prostate health with annual checkups. To learn more about prostate health, and prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment options, visit www.prostateconditions.org, the website of the Prostate Conditions Education Council.
'Screening can't hurt,' Franklin says. 'Men who have been diagnosed early have a high survival rate. Catching it early is the key. If a man isn't getting regular checkups with his doctor, a woman has to step up. Women can get involved by having early detection in the forefront of their minds.'