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Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. It affects about 230,000 men each year. It is the number two killer, with 29,200 deaths annually. It makes up more than 30 percent of all new cancer cases in men.
"Men over the age of 50 need to have their prostate gland checked every year," says Paul H. Lange, M.D., a renowned Seattle urologist, surgeon, and researcher in the field of prostate cancer. "If you are African American or have a family history of prostate cancer, you should be checked annually beginning at age 45."
The best weapon against prostate cancer is catching it early, Dr. Lange says. Prostate cancer can be found with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test combined with a prostate examination. The PSA can often find cancer in the prostate long before it can be felt by a health care provider.
"Physicians in urology, medical oncology, and radiation oncology are collaborating to develop improved education and treatments for patients diagnosed with prostate cancer," Dr. Lange says.
New treatments include better methods to remove the prostate by surgery, putting radioactive "seeds" into the prostate cancer, and treating advanced disease with newer drugs. Researchers are also looking at more than 100 genes that may be linked in some way to prostrate cancer.
"We're not only talking about progress, we're now even beginning to talk about the 'big C' word, namely a cure for prostate cancer," Dr. Lange says.
Two other common conditions also affect prostate health.
Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate gland. It can cause burning upon urinating, a sense of fullness in the bladder, or back pain.
"We usually find it gets better on its own, but it is a significant health problem for many men," Dr. Lange says.
Prostate enlargement is also common in many middle-aged men. "We don't know why it happens, except that it is related to male hormones," he says.
Symptoms of enlarged prostate include increased frequency and urgency of urination or inability to empty the bladder.
"If you are having any problems urinating, you should see a urologist and get it taken care of," Dr. Lange says.
Prostate enlargement has been traditionally treated with a procedure that opens up the urethra to allow urine to pass more easily. Today, medications and microwave treatments are increasingly being used to shrink the enlarged prostate gland.