September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, launched in 1999 by the Urology Care Foundation. Symbolized by a light blue ribbon, many organizations work this month to increase awareness, raise research funds, and promote early screening. The average age at diagnosis for an American man is 69, but men as young as 40 should begin yearly testing. Conditions affecting the prostate can affect healthy sex, urination and fertility, so actively monitoring prostate health is vital to life’s basic functions. Caregivers, loved ones and home care aides know that with prostate cancer, frequent testing and early detection is the best method of prevention. Knowing the symptoms and staying aware are the best way to keep loved ones healthy and cancer-free.
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in America, currently affecting one in every seven men. A new case is diagnosed every 2 ½ minutes, and close to 29,000 men will die of prostate cancer this year. In all, an estimated 3 million men in the United States are living with prostate cancer today. A man who doesn’t smoke is more likely to get prostate cancer than he is melanoma, lymphoma, bladder, kidney, and colon cancers combined. There are two tests available to doctors for screening, and men over 50, and African-American men over 40, should be tested every year. Age, geography and genes are all factors in developing the disease, and just as with any other kind of cancer, early detection is the best form of prevention. Some patients have no symptoms at all, but the most common symptoms are frequent, difficult, weak, bloody or painful urination. Pain or stiffness in the upper thighs, hips and lower back is another common indicator. There are other conditions that affect the prostate that are not cancer, so consulting a doctor and consistent testing are the best preventative measures.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), founded in 1993 by Michael Milken, prostate cancer survivor and former Wall Street titan, has raised more than $660 million for research. PCF has developed some powerful allies in the fundraising fight, which has paid off in progress in research and public education. If you’re a fan of major league baseball, you know well how America’s pastime feels about prostate cancer awareness, screening and fundraising. Every Father’s Day, Major League Baseball wears special uniforms, holds special events, and reminds Dad about prostate health. But in 1999, the cause gained a powerful new voice in the baseball world. New York Yankees’ fans well remember the horrifying news in the spring of 1999 that Joe Torre, then the Yankees manager, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Torre, who had just lead NY to his second World Series title in just three years, seemed untouchable and indispensable to fans. Cancer, back then, seemed like a death sentence. Torre fought back, returned to the dugout, and the Yankees won their third title that year – and the fight against prostate cancer had a new symbol. Torre retired from the Yankees in 2007, and is now Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball, where he is able to continue his role as a face of cancer education, screening, and survival.
The Movember Foundation is yet another partner in fundraising for PCF and other groups. Depending on how you feel about male facial hair, they are the group that either plagues the world with mustaches every November, or the group that heroically brought the mustache back with ‘Movember’. Whatever your feelings about handlebars, goatees, lumberjack chic, or hipster beards, the Movember Foundation supports men’s health initiatives all over the world, including a donation of $5.3 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation in 2015.
The financial support that PCF receives recently delivered a genetic breakthrough that could change everything. This year, PCF announced that there is a connection between metastatic prostate cancer and genetic mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 so-called ‘repair genes’. Why is this important? Women who inherit mutations in these same two genes have a massively increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer, leading women like Angelina Jolie who have a family history of breast cancer to get tested for the mutation. If the mutation is there, many women, like Jolie, choose to undergo preventative mastectomies rather than risk cancer. Knowledge of this connection, and awareness of family medical history, could change the landscape for prostate cancer prevention.