For most men, the prostate remains a mysterious part of their body. But the prostate gland serves an important purpose of being the male reproductive organ, producing seminal fluid and helping to propel semen through the urethra during an orgasm.
Staying in the dark
“We’ve placed a lot of emphasis on diseases impacting female reproductive systems, says Jean Bonhomme, a medical doctor, board member for Men’s Health Network, and the founder of the National Black Men’s Health Network.
Men’s health, he contends, has taken a backseat. And that’s cause for alarm, as “prostate health issues can have a major impact on a man’s health.” Prostate health isn’t limited to diseases like cancer, an enlarged non-cancerous prostate can also carry health risk, Bonhomme clarifies. An enlarged prostate, or prostatitis, can cause urination problems, even kidney infections and failure.
“Non-cancerous diseases of the prostate can be life-limiting,” he says. “Quality of life is severely limited when you have to get up in the middle of the night to urinate.”
Still, prostate cancer remains a serious and pervasive disease and is the most common cancer for men after lung cancer. Bonhomme recommends African-American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer get screened in their 40s, while others get screened in their 50s.
“Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) testing with a digital rectal exam is the most commonly used way to screen for prostate disease, but advancements in screenings are being made,” Bonhomme says. In addition to the blood testing offered by a PSA, new tests like the Prostate Health Index test and the 4Kscore test can help determine what type of treatment is needed, if any, for a more accurate diagnosis. “Some prostate cancer is low-grade and doesn’t present a threat to a man’s life.”
In addition to commonly used treatment options like surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, advances are also being made in how prostate cancer is treated. Immunotherapy, which uses a patient’s blood to create a type of vaccine against cancer, is an emerging trend. Other methods include high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), which destroys cancer cells by focusing heat from sound waves.
“They’re making progress on how to diagnose and treat cancer,” Bonhomme concludes. “A healthier husband, father and brother means a healthier family. Prostate health doesn’t just impact men, but their families as well.”