Sunday, September 24, 2000
Steamboat Springs A gland no bigger than a walnut looms large in the health vocabulary of most men. The prostate gland, which is part of the male reproductive tract, surrounds the urethra and is located under the bladder. Its function is to produce some of the seminal fluid that protects and nourishes sperm cells.
Unfortunately, most men can anticipate some prostate problems. Up to 80 percent of men develop an enlarged prostate, a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH, during their lifetimes.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. This month's "Taking Care of Me" program begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Yampa Valley Medical Center will be a men's health evening. Steamboat Springs urologist Dr. Lyman R. Brothers will talk about prostate and testicular cancers. Bob Dapper, a prostate cancer survivor, will discuss his personal experience. Family practice physician Dr. Dan Smilkstein will talk about male menopause. Questions are welcome. The program is free and begins one hour earlier than usual, at 6 p.m. A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test will be available that evening for a $25 fee.
Much more serious is prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 184,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year.
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, exceeded only by lung cancer. Yet the majority of prostate cancers are found while they are still localized, and when the five-year relative survival rate is 100 percent. Early detection is of crucial importance.
A full checkup, including a digital rectal exam and measurement of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), is recommended for all men 50 and older. The same tests are encouraged for men 40 and older who have a family history or other risks for the disease. In addition to age, risk factors include race (African-American men are much more at risk than white American men), diet, physical activity and family history.
A high-fat diet may increase a man's risk; the ACS recommends limiting the intake of high-fat foods from animal sources and eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and lycopene may also be helpful in limiting the risk of prostate cancer. Lycopene-rich foods include tomato sauce, raw tomatoes, grapefruit and watermelon. Getting regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight also may reduce risk.
Prostate cancer seems to run in some families, suggesting an inherited or genetic factor. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer doubles a man's risk of developing this disease. The risk is highest for men who have several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young at the time of diagnosis.
Bob Dapper of Steamboat Springs feels extremely fortunate that his prostate cancer was diagnosed early, when he was just 48 years old.
"I'm a very active individual. I like to bike, run and hike," he said. "Had I not been screened and checked out at 48, I wouldn't be here and be able to enjoy the things I like to do."
Not surprisingly, Bob advocates annual screenings.
"The screening is not that big a deal," he said. "I encourage everyone to talk to their doctor and have it done."
Recommended treatment options for prostate cancer depend on the severity of the disease and the general health and age of the patient. A urologist can discuss options that range from surgery to radiation therapy to "watchful waiting."
"The biggest thing I hear from people about cancer, whether it's prostate or breast cancer or whatever, is that it's going to change their life," Bob said. "Well, I want to say that life can be normal again after treatment. You don't have a shot at any of the things you really enjoy doing if you don't get checked."
Betsy Kalmeyer is a physician assistant working with Dr. Lyman Brothers in Steamboat Springs.