Prostate cancers, based on the nature of their spread, have been classified into two types- ‘pussycats’ and ‘tigers’. The former are non aggressive kind of tumors which grow very slowly and are unlikely to spread beyond the prostate gland. The latter are rapidly growing tumors which may invade surrounding tissues. Studies are being done to identify between the two at the initial stage of the disease itself and then provide a suitable treatment.
Some of the common misconceptions regarding prostate cancer are as follows.
1. Prostate cancer is a low risk cancer with little mortality
Prostate cancer is second only to lung cancer in terms of mortality with as many as 30,000 men succumbing to it every year in the Unites States alone. One must also remember that even if it is slow growing, if left alone, it may invade other vital organs leading to many complications.
2. Only elderly men are affected with prostate cancer
As is true with almost all types of cancers, prostate cancer also mostly affects the elderly. However, it is increasingly being detected in people in their forties and fifties.
3. No symptoms mean absence of disease
This is a dangerous misconception. Early stage prostate cancer may not produce any symptoms. You should consider yourself lucky if the disease has been diagnosed at an early stage. PSA test can diagnose the disease before the appearance of any symptoms. As the disease progresses, it may produce symptoms like pain in the hip region or problems with urinating, like increased frequency, hesitancy or dribbling. However, these symptoms may also be due to other non cancerous prostate problems. But waiting for symptoms to appear is dangerous because we are allowing the cancer to advance, making it more difficult to treat.
4. You do not have prostate cancer if your PSA is low
Though PSA is the most commonly used screening test for prostate cancer, it is not flawless. Early stages of prostate cancer may not produce any change in the PSA levels in the blood. In such a scenario, the only definitive test to confirm prostate cancer is by doing a prostate biopsy.
5. A high PSA level is indicative of prostate cancer
PSA test is not specific for prostate cancer. Rather, it is indicative of a diseased prostate gland. Its level is affected by a number of factors, like age of the patient, any infection of the prostate gland and as a side effect of certain medicines. Even riding a bicycle can cause its level to rise. Prostate cancer is one of the many causes behind an elevated blood PSA levels. Other conditions with a high level of PSA are benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) and prostatitis.
6. A digital rectal examination is not needed in cases where the PSA level is low
A digital rectal examination (DRE) is the only way by which a doctor can physically assess the prostate gland. The examination may often result in the detection of a small lump or an irregularity on the surface of the prostate gland. This can arouse the suspicion of an early stage prostate cancer. Performing a DRE along with blood PSA levels is an important step in diagnosing prostate cancer at an early stage before the development of any overt symptoms of the disease.
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7. Taking treatment for prostate cancer leads to impotence or incontinence
This is one of the biggest fears regarding prostate cancer which deters many men from taking prompt treatment. Although erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence have been reported in some patients as a fall out of surgery or radiation therapy, this does not hold true for all the patients of prostate cancer undergoing treatment. Moreover, in case these conditions do result, there are many forms of treatment available which can aid the patient in recovering from impotence and incontinence.
8. Radiotherapy for prostate cancer can lead to physical deformity
Many patients of prostate cancer avoid external beam radiation therapy because of the negative perceptions they have about it. Some patients believe that the amount of radiation to which they are exposed cannot be controlled as it is invisible. Others fear about the harmful effect radiation will cause to the nearby organs. Still others feel that radiotherapy can be harmful to other family members. These are just false beliefs which are not based on any technical information. During external beam radiation therapy for prostate cancer, a beam of radiation is targeted specifically to the cancer stricken area, through the skin, to kill the tumor cells and prevent them from spreading beyond. Radiation is limited to just five days a week for several weeks to minimize the possible deleterious effects. Various studies carried out have proven that external beam radiation therapy is as safe and effective as other forms of treatment available for prostate cancer, including prostatectomy.
9. Testosterone replacement therapy can result in prostate cancer
This misconception is largely based on the regression seen in prostate cancer subsequent to surgical or medical castration. However, there is no scientific data to support the belief that high testosterone levels are associated with increased incidence of prostate cancer. No enhanced rate of prostate cancer was found in clinical trials of testosterone supplementation. Moreover, biopsy detectable prostate cancer was found in a sufficient percentage of hypogonadal men, proving that a low testosterone level, in no way, offers any protection against prostate cancer.
10. Prostate cancer can be passed on to others including your partner
Prostate cancer is not a communicable disease that it can be passed to somebody, whether male or female. Moreover, females do not have a prostate gland. Therefore, they cannot, in any case, catch prostate cancer from an affected partner.