Landmarks across Canada such as the CN Tower, Niagara Falls and others are lighting up blue during September to mark Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.Prostate cancer (Note: it’s pronounced proSTATE not proSTRATE.) is the most common cancer among Canadian men. According to Prostate Cancer Canada, 1 in 7 Canadian men will be diagnosed in their lifetime and 4,100 men will die in Canada each year.

The prostate is a walnut size gland in men located just below the bladder. 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 quickly 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 starting urination, decreased flow of stream (unable to hit the back of the bowl), blood in the urine and pain in the pelvis.

Diagnosis begins with a medical history and physical exam. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will discuss any symptoms as well as risk factors.  This is followed by a physical examination, which involves a digital rectal exam (DRE).  A gloved finger is placed 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 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 if you have risk factors or early symptoms, it is important to get tested early.

Take care of yourselves and each other.