Screenings key to catching prostate cancer early

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and Dr. Sean Cavanaugh, MD, Radiation Oncologist at CTCA at Southeastern Regional Medical Center, has a key message for men of all ethnicities: Prostate cancer screenings help save lives.

A relatively quiet health crisis in America has flown below the national radar for decades, and it disproportionately affects African-American men more than any other group.

Statistics from the Prostate Cancer Foundation reveal the disparity:

  • Prostate cancer strikes 1 in 7 men.
  • African-American men are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.
  • African-American men are 2.4 times more likely to die as a result of prostate cancer than men of other ethnicities.
  • Prostate cancer in African-American men is more prevalent than in any other ethnicity in the nation.

Although the reason for the disparity has not been definitively identified, it is widely believed that a combination of genetics, lifestyles, nutritional habits and the quality and frequency of medical care play a role.

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and I have a key message for men of all ethnicities: Prostate cancer screenings help save lives. It is a simple test, routinely performed during an annual physical exam whereby a doctor assesses the prostate for enlargement or abnormalities and checks the blood with what is known as a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test. (PSA is a protein secreted only by the prostate and is easily measured in the blood of all men.)

If the PSA level falls outside a normal range, additional testing may be required to determine if the individual has prostate cancer. The PSA test can help detect cancer before the onset of symptoms, and that is where such tests help to save lives.


  • Because symptoms typically develop once the disease has progressed to an advanced stage, the best time to check for, and treat, prostate cancer is when there are no symptoms.
  • Prostate cancer has better treatment outcomes when detected early.
  • If you have symptoms that include painful urination, blood in the urine or persistent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips or upper thighs, it is essential that you be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.

Moving beyond biopsies

For many years, when prostate cancer was detected, a biopsy was the primary evaluation and monitoring tool. But biopsies have inherent shortcomings. Tissue samples from one area of the prostate may not reveal the presence of cancerous cells in another area of the organ.

Advances in three-dimensional imaging, known as Multi-parametric MRI, offers doctors a new tool that allows them to monitor the entire prostate and helps guide decisions on treatment options.

Sometimes, surgery may be required to remove the prostate and surrounding lymph nodes. Other times, radiation and brachytherapy (which implants tiny radioactive “seeds” directly into the tissue) may be recommended.

In some men, certain hormone therapies may help shrink prostate tumors, but such treatments are not recommended for every patient. The prostate cancer survival rate for African Americans who have undergone hormone therapy to treat prostate cancer is lower than men of other ethnicities, for example.

Multi-parametric MRI, on the other hand, may provide latitude for doctors and patients to proceed with “active surveillance,” a non-invasive monitoring option. Multi-parametric imaging allows doctors to keep a close eye on the situation and may reduce or eliminate the need for surgery.

The combination of available treatment options helps improve the long-term prognoses for men with early-stage prostate cancer. With early detection and treatment of low-risk prostate cancer, patients who have no evidence of disease in follow-up exams have a high probability that the cancer will not recur. For intermediate and high-risk cases, the percentages are naturally lower.

So this month, and every month, if you are over 40, and especially if you are African American, ask your doctor to perform an annual screening as part of your routine physical.