Questions Along the Journey
Being this article is appearing in September during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month it might be a good idea to look at some questions you might ask your doctor depending upon where you are in your journey.
Initial questions to ask your GP
If you're visiting a General Practitioner (GP) for the first time or have not visited one in several years, you might want to ask what your current PSA level is and how it compares to your past readings. Questions you would ask would be, "Has my PSA risen, and exactly what does that mean for me?"
Questions to ask your urologist
Further along your journey, you might be visiting with a urologist who has detected an irregularity during a rectal exam, or perhaps you have undergone a biopsy. Let's presume for a moment that you are surprised that cancer has been detected. You will want to know your Gleason score or where you are in a new risk group.
You will also want to know if there are additional tests so that you and your doctor can gain a better understanding of your cancer. Is contained or has it unknowingly spread beyond the prostate?
Understand when routine testing looks like
If your testing shows you have a non-aggressive score, the next question would be to ask if you can avoid immediate treatment and be monitored on a regular basis using something called active surveillance. If you go this route, you'll need to understand what it means for you and that it is an ongoing process.
It is also important to understand how comfortable you will be with regular testing which will include routine biopsies. Some men are comfortable knowing they are living with untreated cancer -- others are not. Some men become so uncomfortable with the need for ongoing biopsies they decide to move on to treatment. If you are undergoing active surveillance, seeking treatment is always up to you on when to proceed.
Do not let others pressure you.
Let's talk about side effects
Should you decide on treatment, you want to know what side effects to expect from any procedure. Some side effects can be temporary while others may be long-lasting and may require additional intervention. For example, following the removal of a prostate, men can experience leakage for some time. For most men, this may last from several weeks to several months until they consider themselves to be 'dry.' Typically, only a small percentage of men may require additional treatment from surgery. Other concerns you may want to ask about would be impotency, acceptable urinary leakage, or even rectal problems.
If you are a younger man and you are considering having children, you may want to ask about sperm banking or other measures to ensure that a spouse may be able to carry a child in the future.
Seek a second opinion
If you are seeing a radiation oncologist or medical oncologist, ask if you need to see all the specialists for second opinions before a final decision is made. If you are dealing with a team you will want to know how they will coordinate their various services with you.
Ask about clinical trial opportunities
Finally, while many medical folks talk about a "cure" when it comes to cancer you really need to understand what the word cure means. Is a "cure" a 5 year or 10-year period? Understand upfront how and what you are being treated for and what a realistic and potential future may look like. If you are further along, ask about clinical trials that may be offered to patients with advancing disease.
I'm sure there are other questions that can be asked in September or any time of the year, I just hope this information has been helpful and may spark some men to think about their prostate journey when it comes to taking responsibility for your personal health.
Have you made personal connections through your journey with prostate cancer?