Diagnosed with prostate cancer? You’re probably not the only one in your social circles. Besides skin cancer, a prostate cancer diagnosis is expected to happen to more than 240,000 men in the United States in 2021, making it one of the most common cancers.
Prostate cancer occurs in the prostate gland, where cancer cells attack the gland’s lining, the seminal vesicle, and the seminal fluid.
The rates of prostate gland cancer went up sharply during the 1980s and 1990s due to PSA testing in males, but now these rates have somewhat lowered and stabilized, with most prostate cancer patients being 60 or older.
Recent clinical trials indicate improvements in the survival rates of prostate cancer patients, with rates approaching 98-99%. This is due to the advancements in prostate cancer treatment, such as:
- Androgen deprivation therapy
Whether you choose to go for cancer treatment through hormonal therapy, surgery, or radiation treatment or you continue living with prostate cancer after diagnosis, depends on the type of cancer you have in the first place.
What to Expect as a Prostate Cancer Survivor
As a current prostate cancer patient who may or may not be looking for prostate cancer treatment, you should be aware of the type of cancer you’ve developed.
There are two main categories, which include localized and metastatic.
Localized Prostate Cancer
Localized prostate cancer is when the prostate cancer cells are contained within the confines of the prostate gland. In this type, the cancer cells often do not cause serious harm to the prostate cancer patient’s body but are still a major risk factor if there’s no step taken after the prostate cancer diagnosis.
Metastatic Prostate Cancer
Metastatic prostate cancer, also known as advanced prostate cancer, is when the cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. This includes the lymph nodes of the groin, the whole pelvic area, as well as the urinary tract, and other surrounding organs.
Distant Prostate Cancer
Distant prostate cancer is one of the most aggressive stages of the disease. In this stage, the cancer doesn’t remain contained in the prostate or the surrounding. Instead, it spreads out into the belly or even right up to the lungs, often making it difficult to correctly diagnose the place of origin.
How Long Do Prostate Cancer Survivors Live?
This answer to this depends on:
- The stage of prostate cancer that the patient has when they are diagnosed
- The survival timeline you examine
- Patient’s age and medical history
Prostate Cancer Stage
Let’s pick the cancer stage first. As a prostate cancer survivor, we know that you have at least a 98% chance of survival. However, this is an average figure and can sharply vary according to the stage and region of the cancer.
In almost 92% of the total cases, the cancer is detected and diagnosed when it is still in local or regional stages, meaning that it hasn’t spread much, making it easy to cure with the right treatment.
In addition, the survival rate when you catch cancer early is almost 100%. Meaning, nearly all men who are diagnosed immediately with developing prostate cancer will be able to live more than five years post-diagnosis.
Most prostate cancer patients get their diagnosis early. But about 7-8% do not get the cancer detected unless it has metastasized to distant parts of the body. Since the cancer has spread so much throughout, it becomes more difficult to contain it and cure it. At these later stages, the survival rate drops down to one-third in a five-year post-diagnosis timeframe.
Another factor that is vital to the overall survival rate is the timeline of survival you examine. For example, the average 10 year survival rate, as quoted previously, is 98%. However, this goes down to 96% when you look at 15 year survival rates.
This data comes from the American Cancer Society, which relies on the SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results) database. The database has recorded both local and regional prostate cancer survival rates in a five-year timeline to be almost 100%.
Moreover, any drop in this survival rate mainly comes from the low chances of survival with metastasized prostate cancer. The five-year survival rate of this type of prostate cancer is just 30%, making living with prostate cancer challenging for its patients.
Lastly, the age factor. Prostate cancer, in general, is diagnosed in men when they’re around 70 years of age. However, it is highly unlikely that this is the only health issue they face at this age. So even though the death rate of prostate cancer patients may become higher as the cancer survivor ages, it isn’t necessarily because of prostate cancer itself.
The other diseases and infections they may be dealing with significantly contribute to this outcome as well. Moreover, elderly patients with multiple cancers, diseases, and medications may find it harder to go through a successful diagnosis and cancer treatment. This also makes living with prostate cancer harder for them.
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Living With the Fear of Cancer Recurrence
Cancer recurrence is when your prostate cancer resurfaces after once becoming active and then becoming dormant. It may or may not be active at the previous site of activation.
If you are experiencing a recurrence of cancer, it can be a cause for concern. However, the Gleason’s Score of prostate cancer grading is a useful way of determining the cancer’s threat right now.
Whether you’re going for a pathological or clinical treatment, ask your doctor to examine your Gleason Score to find out where you stand. In this grading, the cancer cells are graded from 3 to 5 depending on their health.
The healthier ones get a 3, while the affected cells get a 4 or a 5. Combining these scores tells you the overall grade. The Gleason score then categorizes cancer into four types:
1) Gleason X: When the score is 5 or less, it doesn’t necessarily determine the existence of cancer
2) Gleason ≤6: The cells look healthy or well-differentiated
3) Gleason 7: The cells are moderately differentiated
4) Gleason 8-10: The cells are poorly differentiated
Tips to Keep Your Prostate Health on Track
The best way of keeping your prostate cancer from affecting your life is by educating yourself about your prostate health. Here are some tips to keep your prostate health in better shape:
Keep an Eye Out for Symptoms
If your family has a history of cancers, or if your doctor has revealed a possibility of cancer cells, then active surveillance of the cancer risk becomes mandatory. Also known as watchful waiting, this refers to the record-keeping of all possible symptoms of the biochemical recurrence of the cells.
- Androgen deprivation and imbalances in androgen and testosterone levels
Consider Exploring Alternative Cancer Treatment Options
Sometimes, switching your prostate cancer treatment can also help improve your health and lower the risk of cancer death.
For example, you can look into a different PSA test or try a new treatment option in hopes of seeing a lower Gleason score. And even if the cancer doesn’t completely go away, it should at least shrink and bother you a lot less.
Finding a New Normal
Since many people can detect prostate cancer during its initial stages, living an almost normal life with the newly found reality is quite possible. However, there may be some slight changes you’ll go through even if you don’t notice any symptoms:
Change in Your Sexual Nature
If you choose to remove your prostate gland, it’ll deprive you of ejaculating during sex, essentially indicating that you’re infertile. However, an orgasm will still be achievable.
Although it gets better over time, prostate cancer and its treatment will cause issues with bladder control for a while. You may try adult diapers or ask to keep a bedpan in case things get really worse.
The prostate gland often symbolizes your ability to be masculine and procreate. This cancer and its treatment may not only change how you view yourself, but it may also change your behavior and your overall bodily efficiency.
Some prostate cancer survivors who choose to remove their prostate gland also look for adoption or sperm preservation before the procedure. Some others need extensive hormonal therapy to get their mental and physical health back on track.
As a survivor about to go through treatment or already going through treatment, you must have a clear idea of how the events and procedures may alter your social and personal life.
You may also have to seek mental and physical therapy post-cancer diagnosis and post-procedure.
Treatment Side Effects
During your cancer treatment, such as androgen deprivation therapy or radiation treatment, you may go through side effects such as weaknesses, fatigue, behavioral changes, and other functional problems. Keeping up with your routine checkups and taking your medications can help you through these side effects.
The possibility of receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis can be concerning. But with a 98% survival rate and advanced treatment methods, you can likely survive through the problem along with successful curing.
However, you need to talk to your doctor and radiologist to determine the course of your life ahead before you opt for any of these life-changing treatments.
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