It's that time of year again - time to get our children and grandchildren ready for school with annual health check-ups and vaccinations. But when it comes to our own adult health, many of us would rather stay on a permanent summer vacation. As a nine-year survivor of prostate cancer, I'm here to tell you that when it comes to the health of your prostate, avoiding your annual health check-ups can be life threatening.
In fact, it's that annual physical that saved my life. I had no symptoms and was enjoying activities like golf with no problem. Through the prostate screening and blood tests that are a part of my regular physicals, I was fortunate enough to catch the cancer in its early stages, before it had spread to my lymph nodes or other vital organs.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and, according to the National Cancer Institute, prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer among men in this country. Only skin cancer is more common. Out of every three men who are diagnosed with cancer each year, one is diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Prostate health is particularly important for African American men. Death rates for this cancer are nearly two-and-a-half times higher in African-American men than white men, according to the National Institutes of Health, making this disease the most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in African American men.
Yet, in a recent University of Chicago study, 55 percent of African-American men gauged their risk of prostate cancer to be zero percent, but a full 70 percent turned out to have prostate cancer. This may partially explain why the American Cancer Society says men in our community are more likely to be diagnosed later, with more advanced cancer, which is harder to treat and is often more lethal. It is so important to get tested regularly - through regular visits to your doctor. These screening tests can find cancer early, when it's most treatable.
Because approximately 90 percent of all prostate cancers are detected in the early stages, the cure rate is very high - nearly 100 percent of men diagnosed at this stage will be disease-free after five years, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Still, you have to work to maintain your health by eating right and exercising. According to the NIH, more than half of African-American adults are overweight or obese. And, a new study from the medical journal BJU International found that obese men have an increased risk of prostate cancer recurrence and death after they have completed radiation therapy.
More than ever before, medicines offer hope to those battling prostate cancer. A new report shows that today there are 50 medicines in development to treat prostate cancer. Several vaccines that attempt to get the body's own immune system to fight the cancer are currently being studied. One potential vaccine in clinical trials has tripled the survival rate of men with advanced prostate cancer.
Have questions about prostate cancer or need more information on the subject? Use the Prostate Cancer Research Institute's Helpline. Their mission is to educate patients and their families about prostate cancer and the Institute maintains a knowledgeable help line staff that helps the patient understand his diagnosis and treatment options. Contact the Helpline either by phone, (800) 641-PCRI or (310) 743-2110, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another resource is the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), the world's largest philanthropic source of support for prostate cancer research. PCF provides various types of educational materials including "An Introduction to Prostate Cancer." This brief introductory guide is designed to help men and their families and friends understand the risk factors for prostate cancer, find out how prostate cancer is diagnosed, and look at the different treatment options that can be used. To order a free copy or download a copy in PDF format, visit the Prostate Cancer Foundation's Web site at www.prostatecancerfoundation.org.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation reports that one new case of prostate cancer occurs every 2.5 minutes; a man dies from it every 19 minutes. Help ensure you don't become a statistic by knowing the status of your prostate health. Consider it your assignment for a healthy school year.
Larry Lucas is the vice president for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).