Prostate health is one of those subjects that easily gets sidelined by other health topics. Men are usually reluctant to discuss their prostate concerns, even with their family doctor. The easiest screening option, a blood test checking your PSA levels that increase in cases of prostate growth, causes a lot of anxiety associated with the anticipation of results and is often skipped. Digital rectal exams are also frequently passed on. They are recommended as a yearly screening measure for men over 50, or even as early as 45 for men in high-risk categories (for example, African-Americans and men with a family history of prostate cancer).
Aside from human factors playing a role in the irregularity of prostate screenings, there is another problem—one concerning the diagnosis, or rather, misdiagnosis.
The results of PSA testing may not always be accurate. The levels of prostate-specific antigens rise due to prostate enlargement, and the protein can be produced by both benign and malignant tissues in the organ. Other conditions, such as prostate infections or UTIs, can affect the results too. This can be quite misleading. Thousands of men are referred for biopsies or even surgeries that they don’t really need, as it turns out that their tumors are harmless and growing slowly. (Is your pee playing a trick on you?)
As Dr. Anne Mackie, Public Health England’s Director of Screening, explained, “Many men will develop some form of prostate cancer that won’t harm them in their lifetime—but might have unnecessary treatments as a result of screening that can have major side effects.”
These adverse effects of needless treatment may be impotence and incontinence.
Dutch scientists recently presented their new findings at a European Association of Urology conference, claiming that the most accurate way to tell a prostate cancer patient from a healthy man is through MRI screening, cutting the cases of over-diagnosis (treating tumors that didn’t require any medical attention) in half. MRI scanning also reduced the number of unnecessary biopsies by 70 percent. The results are based on a study of over 300 men. (It’s like your peeing problems have taken over your life.)
Magnetic resonance imaging is a helpful diagnostic tool that is commonly used in medicine, but due to the excessive cost of the equipment, MRI scanning cannot be routine for many conditions, not to mention the long wait list even for patients who direly need it. Researchers say that for men who are at a high risk for developing malignant prostate tumors, routine MRI checks may be a possibility. The aim of further research is to analyze the cost-effectiveness of such screening.
While MRI screening for prostate cancer may be a viable option somewhere down the road, you shouldn’t forget to take care of your health now. Regular PSA screenings are still important to see the dynamics of your prostate growth, if applicable, while preventive measures will support your prostate and overall health. Keep your weight within a healthy range and stay active. Eat more fresh produce, especially antioxidant-rich tomatoes, watermelons, guava, and papaya, along with cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale. Seafood should also be a part of your diet. If you’re a smoker, quit. And, please, develop a trusting relationship with your doctor. Share your health concerns—there’s nothing embarrassing about discussing what worries you “down there.”