BY JANE LANGILLE
WHY DID Costco member Patrick Sullivan,
president and CEO of the Halifax Chamber
of Commerce in Nova Scotia, don a kilt and
make a video about prostate cancer awareness in June of this year? He was keen to
promote Prostate Cancer Canada’s Plaid
for Dad campaign among the 65,000
employees working in the chamber’s member businesses. He knows that diagnosis
and treatment have saved the lives of many
of his friends and business associates,
including Phillip Crawley, publisher and
CEO of The Globe and Mail.
Because September is Prostate Cancer
Awareness Month, it’s a good time to take
a look at this disease, its symptoms and how
Part of the reproductive system, the
prostate gland is the size of a walnut and
produces the fluid that combines with
semen. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men: One
in eight Canadian men will be diagnosed
with the disease in their lifetime. In 2016,
21,600 men were diagnosed and 4,000 died
from the disease.
Common signs and symptoms may
include difficult, urgent, painful, frequent
urination (especially at night), the inability
to urinate or to start or stop urine flow, painful ejaculation and blood in urine or semen.
But many men have no symptoms and are
unaware they have prostate cancer. If caught
early enough, though, the survival rate at five
to 10 years out can be 100 per cent.
Who’s at risk?
The risk of developing prostate cancer
increases starting at the age of 50. Most
prostate cancers are found in men over 65.
The risk is higher for men with a first-degree relative (father or brother) who has
had prostate cancer, who are of black
African or black Caribbean descent, who
are overweight and/or who eat a low-fibre,
The PSA test is a blood test that measures the level of prostate-specific antigen
(PSA), a protein produced by the prostate
gland. Higher PSA levels may indicate cancer. “The PSA test is important, but it
is only one indicator that needs to be considered together with other risk factors
that may indicate further follow-up,” says
Dr. Stuart Edmonds, vice-president of
research, health promotion and survivorship with Prostate Cancer Canada.
FOR YOUR HEALTH
The organization recommends a baseline PSA test for all men in their 40s. The
results should inform the development of
a total risk profile and a plan for gathering
additional information as required. For
some, that will mean not repeating the test
for another 10 years; for others, it may
indicate a need to repeat the test sooner or
to have a biopsy to see if cancer is present.
The common test, the digital rectal
exam (DRE), is also not perfect, but it may
detect lumps or hard or irregular surfaces
located where most, but not all, prostate
cancers can occur. Edmonds says, “If a
tumor is reachable in a DRE, you will find
it; but if it’s not, you won’t.”
New treatment options
It’s difficult to distinguish slow-growing
from life-threatening, aggressive prostate
cancer without further investigation. “The
good news is that we have made tremendous
gains in survival with early detection and a
variety of treatment options available,” says
Edmonds. “We are researching the use of
magnetic resonance imaging as a diagnos-
tic tool that’s less invasive than biopsy.”
New understanding about the genetic
mutations driving prostate cancer’s growth
is providing opportunities to research tar-
geted treatment options. “Recent research
funded by Prostate Cancer Canada found
that men with a defect in the BRCA2 gene,
which is implicated in breast and ovarian
cancer, have a greater likelihood of devel-
oping aggressive prostate cancer,” Edmonds
says. “We are conducting clinical trials with
ovarian cancer drugs specifically targeted
to this DNA damage repair mechanism.” C
Jane Langille is a Toronto-area health and
medical writer ( janelangille.com).
Being proactive for prevention
TALK TO YOUR DOC
MOST PROVINCIAL health authorities
cover the cost of PSA tests, except
Ontario and British Columbia, where
the cost is covered only for men who
are at risk or already diagnosed. Talk to
your doctor about the screening program that’s right for you.
For more information about prostate
cancer, check out these resources:
• Prostate Cancer Canada: pros
tatecancer.ca (click on the “Prostate
Cancer” and “Supporting You” tabs).
• Canadian Cancer Society: cancer.
The risk of developing
prostate cancer increases
starting at the age of 50.
Most prostate cancers are
found in men over 65.