"It looks like your PSA level is more than 0.49 nanograms per milliliter and..." -The Unknown Urologist
You are sitting in the urologist office listening and going over the results of your recent prostate biopsy. Like most of us you are stunned and in a state of disbelief. Your head is nodding as you try to absorb the tidal wave of facts, numbers, and the unknown medical terms.
With our heads spinning...
Terms like Gleason score, seminal vesicles, differentiated cells, and more are new and alien words that can be meaningless. While all of this is going on your mind is racing. Throughout the conversation, the voices in your head (YES, we all have them) are asking countless silent questions. What does this mean? Am I going to die? Am I dreaming? Is this a mistake?
Before anything, take a deep breath
Before discussing the meaning of the many new medical terms you will encounter, it is important for a newly diagnosed man to take a deep breath and understand - prostate cancer is often slow-growing and likely treatable. Unlike many other cancers, you will have time to consider different treatment options ranging from watchful waiting to surgery, radiation, and more. And the good news is -- new treatments, procedures, and drugs are appearing on the horizon almost yearly.
Prostate cancer is not your fault
You also need to understand and believe that you are not at fault for coming down with this disease. Be confident in the knowledge that you did nothing wrong. The simple fact is -- no one knows the exact cause of prostate cancer. Neither researchers nor doctors can explain why one man develops the disease while another does not. That said there may be outside factors that can play a role when it comes to developing prostate cancer.
Our risk increases as we age
High on the list of possibilities is getting older. The observations are clear. A significant number of men are diagnosed with prostate cancer around the age of 70. That said younger men can also develop the disease. Lately more and more younger men are being diagnosed in their 40’s than ever before. Why? No one knows. This recent development can suggest other risk factors might be at play such as diet and genetics.1
If that were not enough information to absorb, research has recently revealed that an individual can exhibit more than one form of prostate cancer at the same time. So now we know that prostate cancer is not necessarily a single disease.
Be mindful of your family history
Your risk of prostate cancer is higher if your brother or father had the disease. A man with one close relative with the disease has double the risk. With two close relatives, the risk becomes five-fold.1
And speaking about family and genetics, there now is growing evidence that a genetic link in the form of the BRCA gene may exist between prostate cancer and breast cancer. In short, if your mother or sister has been diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk for prostate cancer may be higher.
African American men are at a higher risk
Another well-established fact is prostate cancer is more common in African American men and less so for Asian and American Indian men. Statistics show that African American males have a higher prostate cancer incidence rate than white males and will often see an increase in the death rate by some 60% compared to Caucasians.1
Advocate for yourself
So, what do you do with all those new medical words that you are hearing? First, always have someone with you who can take good notes. Second, if you do not understand a word during your visit simply repeat the word out loud and add an audible question mark to the end of the word. "Gleason score??" The approach is a simple way to ask for more information and it allows your partner to write down additional details.
Ask questions concerning next steps. Ask...what your diagnosis means and how serious is the disease. Ask...how many treatments the surgeon has done. Ask...to speak with others who have undergone treatment.
While the internet is a great source of information it is also a source of misinformation and can generate a lot of unnecessary fear. Seek out education and support groups and please spend time on ProstateCancer.net.
Take everything one step at a time
My advice is simple. Do not try to memorize the meaning of every new word. Better to speak up and ask questions that relate to your personal situation. Relax and stay calm.
In time you will naturally develop a new vocabulary, a new comfort level, and a better understanding of what to expect from your personal treatment journey with prostate cancer.
Have you made personal connections through your journey with prostate cancer?