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Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: Fifth leading cause of cancer death in NKY requires awareness

By Marideth Yahl
NKyTribune health reporter

Prostate cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in Northern Kentucky, according to the Northern Kentucky Health Department (NKHD). To promote awareness and provide information during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Noah Allen, a urologist with St. Elizabeth Physicians, explained the disease and the risks.

When cells in the prostate, a walnut-shaped gland below the bladder, begin to become abnormal, that is the start of prostate cancer, says Dr. Allen.

“They can develop mutations in their DNA which cause the cells to grow more rapidly than they normally would otherwise,” he says. Dr. Allen says at this point, the cells can collect and grow into surrounding tissue, even spreading to other parts of the body. 

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that in the U.S., 19.6 out of every 100,000 men die from prostate cancer, which is .02% of those diagnosed. In Northern Kentucky, the rate is higher. The NKHD says that out of every 100,000 diagnosed men, 19.8 in Kenton County, 21.8 in Boone County, and 22.4 Campbell County, die from cancer.

There are several risk factors for prostate cancer. As a man ages, his risk for prostate cancer increases says Dr. Allen. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), age is the main risk factor, those 65-74 being most at risk.

“Those with close relatives who have had prostate cancer or those with mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at an increased risk,” Dr. Allen says, meaning family history is another risk factor. Testing for the mutations is usually a blood test or a saliva test.

African American men have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, Dr. Allen says. One in six African American men will develop this cancer, according to the website, Zero: The End of Prostate Cancer . The increased risk is not certain but there are theories.

Dr. Allen Noah

According to the CDC, 207,430 new cases of prostate cancer were reported in 2017. The CDC further reports that for every 100,000 men, 97 white men develop prostate cancer compared to 164 out of every 100,000 black men.

“Because of historical context, race in the United States is correlated with socioeconomic status, and lower socioeconomic status is correlated with increased cancer risk and poorer outcomes,” says the Zero Cancer website.

“African American men with prostate cancer make less PSA per gram of cancer tissue than other men,” says a study published by John Hopkins Medicine. This means there are fewer early warning signs, says one of the researchers. The study also found that African American men tend to develop tumors on top of the prostate, making it harder to biopsy, the study says.

Obesity also plays a role. Dr. Allen says men who are obese are at a higher risk for prostate cancer. The CDC says 30.6% of American men are obese, but in Kentucky the rate jumps up to 36.4%, meaning more men are at risk.

The relationship of obesity to prostate cancer is unclear, but Harvard Medical School has a theory. According to the Harvard Health publication, obesity increases the growth of insulin and an ‘insulin-like growth factor 1.’ Both cause cells to multiply at a greater rate. Higher rates of both have been linked to an increased risk of prostate and colon cancer, according to the study.

How do you know if something is wrong? Men have different symptoms, and some have no signs. According to the CDC, common symptoms include: difficulty starting urination, weak or interrupted flow of urine, frequent urination especially at night, difficulty emptying the bladder, pain or burning while urinating, blood in urine or semen, pain in the back, hips, or pelvis that persists, and painful ejaculation. The CDC says to call your doctor right away if you experience any of these. But they caution that these symptoms may be something other than prostate cancer as well.

“The best way to prevent prostate cancer is to eat a healthy diet and exercise,” says Dr. Allen. This helps to keep weight at a healthy level. “If you are at higher risk for prostate cancer, you should be vigilant about screening and catching the disease early.”

Having a yearly or biannual screening beginning around the age of 50-55, Dr. Allen says, or earlier if at an increased risk, is a good preventive measure. This offers a better chance of catching it early. The ACS says catching cancer early allows for more treatment options.

Dr. Allen says, “Prostate cancer is rarely life-threatening, especially if caught early. It is also usually asymptomatic especially early in the disease process, meaning most men will not know they have it without screening techniques.”

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