Busting Myths about Prostate Cancer

A lot of people think that they know at least the basics about prostate cancer, and some people believe that they really have the essentials of prostate cancer down — even though they're not doctors or cancer experts. But people's beliefs about prostate cancer, and cancer in general, are often flat out wrong. Check out the following myths about prostate cancer and the accompanying real-deal explanations.

Myth #1: Prostate cancer is solely an elderly man's disease

If you're diagnosed with prostate cancer in your late 40s or 50s, you may find that most people are amazed, because they think that only older men (age 65 years old or older) can get prostate cancer. The reality is that older men do have a greater risk for prostate cancer, but younger men can also develop the disease.

If a younger man believes that you have to be old to die from prostate cancer, and then he is diagnosed with the disease, he may think that he doesn't have to worry. He may then avoid or delay treatment for years, based on this erroneous assumption. Don't make the same mistake.

Myth #2: If you have cancer, you'll know because of the symptoms

Some forms of early cancer have symptoms, but prostate cancer, especially in its early stages, usually has no symptoms at all. Only when men are in the advanced stages of prostate cancer do they often experience severe urinary or back problems. By then the illness is treatable but not often curable. Whether you have symptoms or not, make sure that you get your prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood level checked every year after age 50, and every year after age 40 if you're black and/or have a family history of prostate cancer — both groups are at higher risk than others to develop prostate cancer.

Myth #3: Nobody dies of prostate cancer

Strangely, people may also believe the opposite of the "everyone must die" myth about prostate cancer — that no one ever dies of prostate cancer. In fact, it's the second leading cancer killer for men in the United States. Maybe the cancer was detected in a later stage, or maybe it was discovered early on, and everything "right" was done, and yet the patient died anyway. However, in most cases, when your doctor catches prostate cancer in the early stages, it's not only treatable, but also curable.

Myth #4: Surgery or radiation is always best

Understandably, most surgeons favor the prostatectomy as the best option for many cases of prostate cancer. Radiation oncologists often lean toward recommending radiation treatments for many men with prostate cancer. To determine which treatment is best, each individual situation needs to be considered, including the man's age, how advanced his cancer is, his attitude about side effects and quality of life issues, and other factors. For example, if a man is 70 years old and has diabetes, surgery may be a poor choice, because his life expectancy is less than 10 years. Conversely, if a man is 55 and otherwise healthy, and his cancer is localized (or confined to the prostate), a prostatectomy may be the best answer. Patients need to consider the choices they're offered and analyze what's best for them.

Myth #5: You'll become permanently disabled

Many men continue to work after being treated for prostate cancer, while some take four to six weeks off (or longer) to recover from surgery or other treatments. Some men decide to retire — a decision they may have been delaying before the diagnosis of prostate cancer. If you have prostate cancer and you're a military veteran who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, you may be eligible for disability compensation from the Veterans Administration.

Myth #6: Impotence always follows treatment

Unlike the other myths, there may actually be a bit of truth behind this one. Half of all men who receive treatment for prostate cancer will experience some impotence (or problems with potency), albeit temporarily. However, some men have few or no problems.

Specifically, treatment for prostate cancer may cause erectile dysfunction (impotence) in men because of the effects of surgery or radiation on the nerves and blood vessels that control erections. In addition, hormone shots can cause impotence by drastically lowering your sex drive. But if your doctor performs the nerve-sparing prostatectomy, or you have radiation therapy, you have good odds of retaining or getting your potency back in a year (or sooner).

Myth #7: Your partner will dump you

Some individuals think that if you have prostate cancer, your partner will get frustrated and walk out on you. Although very few studies on the subject have been performed, abandonment doesn't seem to be a problem for men with prostate cancer. Sure, some men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer are walked out on, and some even decide to leave their partners. But in most of these cases, the relationship was in trouble before the cancer diagnosis. The illness may have provided a little push over the edge for a relationship that was already hovering on the cliff of serious problems.

Support groups can often help with relationship problems that occur after diagnosis. You can even find some online support groups for significant others that can be very helpful in alleviating a lot of the concerns, questions, and tension that living with someone with prostate cancer can generate. Help is out there.

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