Cancer of the prostate gland is the second-most common cancer in men, after skin cancer. In 2011 about 240,000 men in the US were diagnosed with prostate cancer, and about 33,700 men died from the disease. Fortunately, if it is caught early, prostate cancer has a high survival rate.
Your chance of having prostate cancer increases with age. In addition, you have a higher risk if you are African-American, or if you have a male biological relative who had prostate cancer. Some studies suggest that eating a lot of fatty foods may also raise your risk.
Unfortunately, in its early stages prostate cancer usually produces no clear symptoms. That’s why I urge all men to have yearly physical exams, including, when appropriate, the blood test for prostate cancer (called a PSA test).
The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test can suggest—but not prove—that cancer is present. The prostate gland normally secretes very low levels of PSA into the blood. Cancer can cause more PSA to be released. Higher PSA levels can be a telltale sign of cancer.
Generally speaking, PSA values between 0 and 4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) are considered normal. Levels above 4 ng/ml may be a cause for concern. But it is also true that PSA scores can be raised for reasons other than cancer.
Both normal prostate enlargement and prostatitis, for example, can raise PSA levels even though no cancer is present. Also, some men simply have higher than normal PSA levels and yet are perfectly healthy. You must talk with your doctor about your score and what it means for you.
Prostate cancer can be successfully treated, especially when caught early (see the article on treatments for prostate cancer).