You Have Prostate Cancer. Now What?
A diagnosis of cancer can spark fear, anger and an array of emotions as you try to life a full life while dealing with your ongoing condition. With prostate cancer, there is also the possibility of a reduced sexual drive and ability. Understanding what’s ahead, though, can help lower anxiety and prepare you for the journey forward.
Prostate cancer—the most common form of cancer in men after skin cancer—affects a man’s prostate, the gland that produces seminal fluids. Symptoms include pain or difficulty with urination, as well as blood in urine or semen, bone pain, unexplained weight loss and erectile dysfunction (ED).
It is diagnosed most commonly in men over 50 years old. Other risk factors include a history of prostate cancer in immediate relatives, obesity and tobacco use. Black men are 1.8 times more likely than white men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, though it is unclear why.
What to know about your diagnosis
Something you should know at the outset is that a lot of other men know exactly what you’re going through because they have the same condition. Approximately 13 percent of American men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives, and the vast majority survive the disease. The prognosis for prostate cancer tends to be mostly optimistic, especially for cases discovered early. Regular prostate exams and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening are extremely important in the discovery process, and it's especially noteworthy that many forms of prostate cancer grow slowly and respond well to treatment.
The majority of patients undergo treatment and go on to live long and healthy lives. For local or regional prostate cancer, the five-year survival rate is almost 100 percent. Metastatic cases—where the cancer has spread beyond the prostate—account for only about 5 percent of the total, They are significantly more dangerous with a 5-year survival rate of 31 percent. Treatment options vary and may include watchful waiting, surgery, radiation, cryotherapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapies.
What to expect
You might be surprised by how emotional you are after being diagnosed. Cancer tends to come when you least expect it and often impacts people who feel perfectly healthy. Many people hear the news and think: Who, me? Can’t be! And that’s completely normal. You may feel sad, scared, shocked, angry or a million other emotions. There’s no wrong reaction. The most important strategy is to learn as much as you can and focus on the fact that most cases of prostate cancer are treatable via multiple methods.
Side effects of treatments may present their own challenge. Depending on your form(s) of treatment, you may experience urinary dysfunction (including incontinence), ED, fertility issues, fatigue, increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and dementia, and rarely, changes in bowel function.
Changes in urinary and sexual function are often the most impactful, with significant implications for your sex life and relationship(s). Open communication and a willingness to explore options are essential for overcoming challenges. It may be tough, but with the support of loved ones and friends, you will navigate the road ahead.
How to prepare for what’s coming
Most important of all: Do your research. Minimizing the unknowns can help bring a sense of calm and control during a frightening time.
Consider second, even third opinions before selecting a treatment method. Typically, surgeons are more likely to recommend surgery, radiologists prefer a solution that includes radiology—you get the idea. The reality is both treatments have their pros and cons, and both have good outcomes. In some cases, you may be able to treat your cancer without either treatment. Talk through your options with multiple parties, ask all of your questions and keep asking them until you've found the best choice for you.
A crucial element of successful treatment is emotional preparedness. Even if you find it difficult, you must try to open up about all that's going on and how you’re feeling about it. Friends and family will be an indispensable support network. Organized cancer support groups—in-person and online—are another great way to connect. Choose an environment that would make you the most comfortable in sharing your feelings.
The most important advice is not to close yourself off from everyone. Find an outlet for your anxiety and stress, because you will have both. Spend time with friends, get outdoors, exercise, and focus on self-care and stress relief.
Maintaining A Positive Outlook
Side effects from treatment can be frustrating, even devastating, but many are just temporary, and others, such as urinary issues and erectile dysfunction, can be treated or minimized, and many men go on to have fulfilling sex lives.
Whether you’re watchfully waiting or counting the days until your next PSA test, anxiety may be a significant challenge for you and your loved ones. Keeping lines of communication open, embracing support from others and engaging with other prostate cancer sufferers and survivors can help you find a sense of community that will encourage you. More than anything, find ways to stay positive and connected.