Prostate cancer prevention: 5 areas to focus on when discussing with loved ones

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers among American men and people with a prostate, second to skin cancer. However, it’s very curable.

“If you catch this cancer early, the likelihood of a cure increases exponentially. It’s a simple message, but it can sometimes be difficult to achieve,” said Elisabeth Heath, M.D., FACP, medical oncologist, leader of the Genitourinary Oncology Multidisciplinary Team, member of the Phase 1 Clinical Trials Program and the Hartman Endowed Chair for Prostate Cancer Research at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. “Though this conversation can be challenging to have, it is still necessary. Acknowledgment and awareness of the risk of prostate cancer is important.”

How can you encourage the men in your life to inquire about their prostate health? Here are focus areas to consider during your conversation:

1. Ask them when they last visited a primary care provider or urologist.

If it has been over a year, this may be a great time to remind them to make an appointment. You can also ask if prostate health is part of their discussion with their provider.

2. See if they know if they are at high risk of developing prostate cancer.

If the men in your life are 50 years old or older; African American (African Americans are generally encouraged to consider screening for prostate cancer as early as 45 years old due to their risk of developing the disease); or have a family health history of prostate cancer, especially those who have a father, son or brother who was diagnosed before age 65, they are at an increased risk.

3. Encourage them to talk to their doctor about any changes or symptoms they may have.

The early stages of prostate cancer may not present symptoms. People with a prostate should pay attention to changes they may be experiencing, such as:

  • Trouble urinating – Although this is a common indicator of prostate cancer, having difficulty urinating does not always mean the cause is prostate cancer. This sign could be a symptom of an infection or Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH), a common issue in people with a prostate over 50. Bringing this issue up to your doctor could help answer many questions.
  • An increased frequency of urinating.
  • Pain or a “burning sensation” when urinating or ejaculating.
  • Sudden erectile dysfunction.
  • Blood in the urine.

“The prostate is in an area that many men don’t want to talk about and it affects them in many ways. Men may have symptoms they don’t want to discuss,” Dr. Heath said. “If they don’t talk about it now, they’ll be visiting their doctor or me when the cancer has already advanced. I don’t want that for any of my patients.”

4. Remind them that screening is a quick process.

If they are unfamiliar with prostate cancer screenings, this would be an excellent opportunity to encourage them to talk to their primary care provider. It takes little to no time for the tests to be administered. The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood draw. The digital rectal exam (DRE) allows health care providers to feel for suspicious lumps.

5. Assure them if they are diagnosed with prostate cancer, they are not alone.

It’s important to know that prostate cancer is common. About 1 in 8 people with a prostate are diagnosed in their lifetime. For African Americans — 1 in 7. Karmanos also offers support services for current patients and survivors, including a men’s support group.

I want your family members, friends or you to know if you catch it and treat it early, your chances of being around a long time are far greater than if you don’t talk about it and don’t ask,” expressed Dr. Heath.

The most important thing you can say to your friends and family members with a prostate is to schedule an appointment and talk to their primary care provider about the benefits and risks of a prostate cancer screening. For more information, visit