Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer among men. While this slow-growing cancer has a high survival rate (98.6% over five years), prostate cancer patients still face uncertainty and a dizzying number of treatment options. At San Ramon Regional Medical Center, a group of prostate cancer survivors regularly meets to help process their diagnosis, understand their options, and give each other emotional support.
The Basics of Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is most common in men who are 65 years or older, African-American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer are more likely to receive a prostate cancer diagnosis. Unlike some cancers, prostate cancer doesn’t have many early symptoms. The cancer typically grows slowly, and symptoms only appear when the cancer is relatively advanced. Common prostate cancer symptoms, such as difficulties urinating, can also be associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) — a common condition of aging.
Understanding Your Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
If your doctors suspect you have prostate cancer, they will typically recommend a biopsy. Then, a specialist will review your biopsy report, blood work, and other studies to grade your prostate cancer. In most cases, doctors use Gleason scores when discussing prostate cancer.
While Gleason scores range from one to ten, you’ll never see score below six following a biopsy. Unfortunately, many prostate cancer patients don’t understand this and base their treatment decisions on inaccurate information.
A Gleason score suggests the following:
- Score of Six: Your cancer is low-grade and will probably grow slowly.
- Score of Seven: This score has different meanings, depending on your raw data. You might have a good prognosis, but it’s not quite as promising as a six score. Or, your cancer could be likely to grow, but not as quickly as an eight score.
- Score of Eight: You have a high-grade cancer that is likely to grow and spread.
- Score of Nine or Ten: Prostate cancers with a score of nine or ten are twice as likely to metastasize (or spread) as those with a score of eight.
It’s also important to understand that your Gleason score is only one part of your diagnostic picture. Your other test results, including PSA levels and ultrasound findings, will help direct your care and explain the severity of your cancer diagnosis.
Prostate Cancer Treatment Options
Once you understand the size and growth potential of your prostate cancer, you’ll have to assess your treatment options. Depending on the severity of your cancer, these might include:
- Monitoring: If you have a small and slow-growing cancer, you might decide to postpone treatment. Some prostate cancers never cause any symptoms and only require monitoring.
- Surgery: Surgery is a common treatment option. While prostate surgery can have significant side effects, such as urinary incontinence and impotence, robotic and nerve-sparing surgeries can sometimes reduce these risks. At San Ramon Regional Medical Center, eligible patients can choose a robotic prostatectomy using the hospital’s da Vinci® Surgical System.
- Radiation: Either a machine or radioactive “seeds” (that are implanted into your cancer) expose cancer cells to radiation that kills them or slows their growth. Radiation therapy can increase your risk of other cancers and might also cause impotence and urinary incontinence.
- Hormone Therapy: Doctors use medication, surgery, and other hormones to block the hormones that cancer cells need to grow. You might experience hot flashes, sexual dysfunction, and weakened bones due to hormone therapy.
- Chemotherapy: Oral or IV drugs shrink or kill cancer cells. Depending on the type of chemotherapy, you might experience hair loss, fatigue, mouth sores, and flu-like symptoms.
- Biologic Therapy: Doctors harness your immune system to fight your prostate cancer or control the side effects from other cancer treatments. Patients sometimes experience flu-like symptoms and urinary problems during biologic therapy.
Your treatment plan should be based on your test results, Gleason score, doctors’ advice, and personal needs.
Prostate Cancer Support Helps Ease Anxiety and Empower Survivors
Many men struggle with the uncertainty of a prostate cancer diagnosis and are nervous about their treatment options. They also sometimes feel embarrassed and isolated by cancer-related incontinence and impotence. Because of this, San Ramon Regional Medical Center offers, in addition to its cancer treatment services, a Man-to-Man support group — an American Cancer Society program that offers emotional support to patients and their families.
This group welcomes men at every stage of their journey, from those who are recently diagnosed to long-term survivors, and offers social and emotional support while giving members the chance to speak one-on-one with others who are also coping with prostate cancer.
While a support group’s advice should never outweigh your physician’s opinions, insight from survivors can help you understand your treatment options in more detail. For example, support group members can relate their experiences with treatment, side effects, and life with cancer. You might also develop problem-solving skills from other survivors that help with the long-term mental and emotional effects of prostate cancer and treatment.
Canopy Health: Advocates for Men’s Health
At Canopy Health, we believe men’s health issues require physical and emotional care. We understand how difficult a prostate cancer diagnosis — and its impact on your body — can be.