May 29th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Choices for older men with prostate cancer

by Dorian Martin

Dad broke the news to me gently several years ago. “I’ve got prostate cancer,” he said. “But the doctor assures me that the type of cancer I have is one you live with, not one you die from.” While that reassured me a bit, I definitely wanted to learn more about this type of cancer.

I discovered that prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in men. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that 238,590 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2013 while 29,720 men could die from this type of cancer this year.

Different symptoms and types of prostate cancer

This type of cancer forms in the tissue of a man’s prostate and usually occurs in older men since the prostate often grows with age. “Prostate cancer usually grows slowly and initially remains confined to the prostate gland, where it may not cause serious harm,” the Mayo Clinic stated. However, other types of this cancer spread more rapidly and may require treatment.

The NCI lists symptoms of prostate cancer such as weak or interrupted flow of urine, frequent urination (especially at night), difficulty urinating, discomfort while urinating, blood in the urine or semen, painful ejaculation, or pain in the back, hips or pelvis that doesn’t go away. If an older man is experiencing any of these symptoms, medical advice is recommended.

Varying options for treatment

If your elder is diagnosed with this type of cancer, different factors may affect the prognosis and treatment options. These factors include the stage of the disease (how much it has developed and whether the cancer has spread), the elder’s age and health, and whether the cancer is newly diagnosed or has recurred. Doctors take a biopsy and look at the sample’s Gleason score, which measures how likely the tumor is to spread. The doctor also looks at the results of a test measuring the blood levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a substance made by the prostate that often is found in higher levels among men who have prostate cancer.

The NCI describes six types of standard treatments used currently:

  1. Active surveillance
  2. Biologic therapy
  3. Chemotherapy
  4. Hormone therapy
  5. Radiation therapy
  6. Surgery

Other experimental treatments are in clinical trials, such as cryosurgery and ultrasound techniques. Based on the doctor’s assessment, a treatment plan can be developed.

Alternatives to an aggressive approach

While we often want our elders to take the most aggressive type of treatment to stop a disease, monitoring and watchful waiting may be more appropriate for some cases, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Older men who have other major illnesses or conditions may not live long enough to benefit from aggressive prostate treatments. The Mayo Clinic cautions that elders who choose aggressive treatments for prostate cancer may encounter unanticipated side effects such as incontinence, sexual dysfunction and other health issues that can affect their quality of life.

Vanderbilt University notes that prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death among American men, and describes risk factors such as obesity and aging. Caregivers or family can encourage older men to adopt preventative measures that may contribute to a lower risk of prostate cancer. The Mayo Clinic suggests regular exercise, which has been found to help reduce cancer risk. Also important is a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes, which have lycopene, a compound that could lower the risk of this type of cancer.

Another article discusses how geriatric specialists can make treatment decisions based on extending the quality of life for elders, for example, determining if an older cancer patient is healthy enough for aggressive medical interventions. You can also take a look at my blog post on health tips for older men, including recommendations for regular checkups.

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