September designated as month to raise awareness


Dr. Michael Bergeron

Prostate cancer is so prevalent in New Mexico that it has been categorized as a leading health concern and a top killer among men in our state, according to the latest New Mexico Health Department (NMDOH) data, published in 2015.

In the U.S., it is the second leading cause of cancer death among men. However, a diagnosis of prostate cancer is not a death sentence. The earlier the cancer is caught and treated, the more likely the person will be disease-free. Since September is designated as National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, Optum New Mexico is drawing attention to this common, but often treatable disease.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for Hispanic, White, African American, and Asian men in New Mexico, and is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer for Native American men in the state, according to the NMDOH.  About one in eight men nationwide will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime.

The older a man is, the greater his chances for developing prostate cancer. In fact, the majority of diagnoses will occur in men over age 65. As a man ages, the prostate (a small organ located below the bladder and in front of the rectum) tends to grow from its initial size of about a walnut. Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate begin to grow out of control.

Though prostate cancer can cause a variety of symptoms, many prostate cancers are not associated with early symptoms or warning signs. However, when symptoms are present, they may include painful ejaculation; blood in the urine or semen; frequent urination (especially at night) and difficulty emptying the bladder completely; pain in the back, hips or pelvis that does not go away; difficulty starting urination; and weak or interrupted flow of urine.

It is important to remember that many of these symptoms occur frequently in men, especially older men, who do not have prostate cancer. Plus, there are conditions of the prostate that occur either naturally or with increasing age that are not necessarily indicative of cancer but may mimic prostate cancer symptoms. These include prostatitis, an inflammation of the prostate gland that occurs as a result of a bacterial infection, and a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate, known as benign prostatic hyperplasia.

So, it is especially important that anyone experiencing these kinds of symptoms visit their doctor to see what might be causing them. Your doctor may suggest screening to help detect cancer early, before it spreads, becoming more difficult to treat and more deadly. Men should discuss the potential benefits and harms of screening with their doctor and decide whether to proceed based upon their individual preferences and condition.

If cancer is detected, there are multiple treatments available. Determining the proper course may depend on a variety of factors, including the aggressiveness and stage of cancer. Some common treatments include prostate removal, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy.

While multiple factors impact survival rates, the American Cancer Society does have encouraging data for times when the cancer is detected and treated early: The five-year relative survival rates for men diagnosed with prostate cancer (based on men diagnosed between 2012 and 2018) is 96.8 percent.