By: Steve Bond

You may notice more men are sporting upper lip hair these days. The return of the soup strainer is not 1980s resurgence; rather it’s a sign of Movember. Movember is an international foundation focused on improving men’s health — mental health and suicide prevention, testicular cancer and prostate cancer. (Note: its pronounced proSTATE not proSTRATE.)

It is estimated that 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, and 4,100 men will die in Canada each year, making it the most common form of cancer in men.

The prostate is a walnut size gland in men located just below the bladder. Prostate cancer usually grows slowly and initially stays in the prostate gland, where it may not cause serious harm. Sometimes the cancer can be more aggressive, growing rapidly and spreading outside of the gland. Detecting cancer early while it is still within the prostate has the best prognosis and best chance for survival.

Early on there may be no symptoms. As the disease grows, men may see symptoms such as difficulty urinating, decreased flow of stream (unable to hit the back of the bowl), blood in the urine and pain in the pelvis.

Diagnosis of prostate cancer begins with a medical history and physical exam. Your doctor will discuss any symptoms as well as risk factors. This is followed by a physical examination which involves a digital rectal exam (DRE). The doctor will place a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland through the wall of the rectum feeling for any changes in the size or the gland and presence of lumps. A blood test called Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) may be ordered. The PSA is a tumour marker and while it may be elevated in non-cancerous conditions of the prostate, it is helpful to diagnose and measure treatment of prostate cancer. In addition, ultrasound and biopsy are often used to confirm the diagnosis and determine how aggressive the cancer is likely to spread.

Risk factors include family history, age (over 50), ethnicity (African American and Caribbean are at higher risk) and being overweight.

So next time you see a guy sporting a Groucho Marx or a Hulk Hogan, think about men’s health and if you are at risk for prostate cancer, get checked. Take care of yourselves and each other.