The good news is, as far as cancers go, it’s pretty curable: More than 98 percent of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer survive for five years or more. But the percentage drops when we’re talking about advanced cases: Once the cancer has spread to distant organs, the five-year survival rate is just 30 percent, SEER data shows.
That’s why screening can be beneficial. While the recommendations for PSA screening is still controversial, a study just published in September seems to support the test for older guys. In fact, the average guy should consider PSA screenings for prostate cancer beginning at age 56 and continuing to 69—and earlier if you are African American or have a family history of prostate cancer, Men’s Health urology advisor Larry Lipshultz, M.D., recommends.
Prostate cancer is notoriously symptom-free in its early stages, which is one benefits of the screening test, says James Wysock, M.D., urologic oncologist and assistant professor of urology at NYU Langone Health.
“Often, by the time you have symptoms, it may be because it’s advanced quite a bit,” he says. But here are the prostate cancer symptoms that could be telling.
The prostate gland is located underneath your bladder and urethra. When you urinate, the bladder pushes its contents into the prostate—which has a tubular opening to let the urine pass through—and then into the urethra.
As you age, your prostate grows—which can be known as benign prostate hyperplasia, or an enlarged prostate—and that tends to cause urination changes. But a tumor growing in your prostate can cause similar problems peeing, too.
These urinary problems include a slow urinary stream, increased frequency, more urgency, and a sensation of incomplete bladder emptying, says Dr. Wysock. That may mean you’ll feel the urge to pee right after you just went.
Seeing blood when you pee or blood when you ejaculate is not normal, and should get checked out whenever it happens, according to Dr. Wysock. It may be a symptom of prostate cancer, or come from another cause like infection or inflammation. Either way, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor.
Keep in mind that having zero ejaculation, though, is rarely a sign of prostate cancer, he adds. That’s more likely to be a problem with blocked ejaculation ducts, he says, or it may be a side effect of taking medication for benign prostastic hyperplasia, a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland.
If prostate cancer has spread outside of the gland, it tends to affect nearby tissues and bones, including the lower back and spine. It can press on the spinal nerves, causing pain or numbness, and cause tightness in the muscles, depending on where the cancer cells are located. Dr. Wysock emphasizes that diagnosing prostate cancer as a result of low back pain is very rare, although it is possible.
Keep in mind that these three potential prostate cancer signs can be caused by a myriad of much more minor issues, according to Dr. Wysock.
“Think of them as triggers for evaluation,” he says. “But even with these, your first thought shouldn’t automatically be that you have prostate cancer.”
So yes, if they pop up, see your doctor—but don’t freak out about prostate cancer right away. And talk to your doctor about PSA screening, especially if you’re in your 50s or are at higher risk of prostate cancer.