“Movember” is a movement pushing to de-stigmatize a variety of men’s health issues. The foundation acts to raise awareness and funding for prostate cancer, men’s mental health, and testicular cancer. In particular, prostate cancer is a significant threat to men’s health, as it is one of the most common forms of cancer, affecting 9.9 million men. 1 in 9 of those men are from the U.S., and one of the most important elements in their journey is early discovery and treatment. Medical assistants in clinics and doctors’ offices can help patients detect, treat, and recover from prostate cancer in a wide variety of ways.
Why Early Detection is So Important
The rates of treatment success vary drastically depending on when the cancer is discovered. If detected early, the rate of survival beyond 5 years is an optimistic 98%. These numbers drop significantly as the cancer goes undetected for longer periods of time. If caught after significant progression, prostate cancer patients only have a survival rate (beyond 5 years) of 26%. With early detection methods, this scenario can be avoided. More regular exams allow for a doctor to find it closer to its formation, and thus improving survival rates for that patient. Medical assistants have the important role of being a patient liaison for the office, allowing them plentiful opportunities to encourage early detection habits.
When to Start Getting Examined for Prostate Cancer
There are a variety of factors that affect when your patients should start getting prostate exams. The standard age to begin regular prostate exams is 50 years old, but if there is a family history of the disease present, 45 is a safer recommendation. Additionally, African Americans are recommended to start earlier at 45 as well, due to their increased risk. Black men are 50% more likely to develop prostate cancer for a variety of suspected reasons, particularly, a biological predisposition. Medical assistants can address the risk factors of each individual patient and help them determine when to start getting examined for prostate cancer. Patients are recommended to get examined every 2-4 years depending on their family history and risk factors.
What to Expect During a Prostate Exam
Prostate exams are always performed in an office by a physician. During the exam, the doctor feels the prostate through the rectum with a single gloved, lubricated finger. The goal is to feel the shape and texture of the prostate and note any lumps or irregularities.
There is a public nervousness and discomfort surrounding prostate exams, and many patients’ intimidation stops them from following a regular exam schedule. While they may be slightly uncomfortable, they are not actually painful. These exams are performed by a medical professional in a safe environment, so there is little reason to be anxious about the event itself. Medical assistants can help put patients at ease before the exam by informing them of the lack of pain and educating them about the importance of regular testing.
Screening for Prostate Cancer
Sometimes, screening is recommended for higher-risk patients because it allows a more holistic perspective on the entirety of the prostate. During a screening, the doctor will insert a thin probe into the rectum in order to obtain an ultrasound of the prostate. Prostate screenings take detailed ultrasound images showing irregularities deeper within the prostate that manual exams can’t detect. The main difference that distinguishes screening from an exam is the digital probe used to locate a potential growth, instead of the doctor’s finger. This is often used to determine the nature of a lump or irregularity found during a previous exam. Like the exam, it is generally painless. For high-risk patients, screenings are recommended along with exams. If a patient is lower risk, they are usually less frequent or on an “as needed” basis, and the doctor will inform these decisions.
Symptoms to Watch Out For
Patients should also become vigilant about exams and screening if they experience any physical symptoms that could indicate prostate cancer. These symptoms include:
- Needing to urinate often, especially if it interrupts sleeping
- Difficulty beginning urination
- Difficulty holding in urine
- Weak urine flow
- Interrupted stream
- Pain while urinating
- Erectile dysfunction
- Pain during ejaculation
- Persistent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs
- Blood in urine
- Blood in semen
Treatment Options for Prostate Cancer
If cancer is detected, there are a wide variety of treatment options to consider with your physician carefully. These options include:
Sometimes masses and irregularities don’t require immediate action, and are able to be closely monitored to make sure that the issue does not progress any further.
A radical prostatectomy refers to the surgical removal of the prostate gland, whereas a partial prostatectomy only removes a portion of it. This procedure can also remove surrounding tissue that has been affected. A prostatectomy is usually best for patients whose cancer is contained to the prostate area.
Radiotherapy is a treatment option where radiation technology is used to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA. It aims to shrink the size and severity of a tumor. The size and exact location of the tumor will determine the nature of this treatment route. There are two main types of radiation therapy, internal and external. External sends radiation beams from a machine through the body, while internal delivers the therapy through an IV or by ingesting a pill.
Also referred to as Androgen Suppression Therapy, Hormone Therapy stops male hormones from fueling the cancer cells. This treatment has the ability to slow the growth of and even shrink the cancerous tumor.
Chemotherapy is often resorted to if Hormone Therapy fails or is not a viable option. Docetaxel is administered during this treatment to stop cancer cells from dividing and multiplying. This is often the recommended option for more advanced tumors.
Join the Movember Movement
There is a lot that medical assistants can do to help their patients through this difficult time. Helping them manage their side effects, informing them about lifestyle changes, and keeping detailed patient records at their general checkups are all immensely important duties for MAs.
If you’d like to join the Movember movement and help fight prostate cancer, check out Woodruff Medical Training School to get certified as a medical assistant today!