Posts Tagged ‘digital rectal exam’

Digital Rectal Exam of the Prostate: What You Need to Know

April 13, 2019

Andrew Siegel MD   4/13/19

A DRE is not a fancy and sophisticated high-tech “digital” as opposed to “analog” test.  “Digital” does not refer to a series of data represented by zeroes and ones, but rather to the digit that is used to perform the exam, typically the index finger of the examining physician.  “Rectal” is self-explanatory, referring to the anatomical structure entered to access the prostate gland.  

finger 2

The slender digit of yours truly

Caveat Emptor:  Always scrutinize the index finger of your urologist before allowing him or her to lay a finger on you…if they are sausage-like or have long nails… 

Please note well the following fact that is misunderstood by many patients:  Although the anus and rectum are the portals to the prostate, urologists are NOT colon and rectal doctors, nor do we do colonoscopies.  That is under the domain of the gastroenterologist or colo-rectal surgeon. Same portal, different organs!  Just because you have had a colonoscopy does not imply that you have had a proper DRE of the prostate. 

A DRE is a vital part of the male physical exam in which a gloved, lubricated finger is placed gently in the rectum in order to feel the outer, accessible surface of the prostate and gain valuable information about its health.  There are many positions in which to perform the test, but I prefer the standing, leaning forward with elbows on exam table position. Another position is the lying on your side, knees bent upwards towards chest position. Both are perfectly acceptable.

True story:  When I was on  the receiving end of my first DRE, I passed out and needed to be revived with an ammonia inhalant!  It has never happened again, but I do literally “see stars” during my annual exams, which are truly humbling.  My conclusion is that it is always better to give than receive. 

After age 40, an annual DRE is highly recommended. Although it is not a particularly pleasant examination, it is brief and not painful. Urologists do not relish doing this exam any more than patients desire receiving it, but it provides essential information that cannot be derived by any other means. If the prostate has an abnormal consistency, a hardness, lump, bump, or simply feels uneven and asymmetrical, it may be a sign of prostate cancer.  Prostate cancer most commonly originates in the peripheral zone, that which is accessed via DRE.

Digital Rectal Exam

Illustration above from PROSTATE CANCER 20/20: A Practical Guide to Understanding Management Options for Patients and Their Families, written by yours truly

When teaching medical students, we often use hand anatomy to explain what the prostate feels like under different circumstances.  Turn your hand so that the palm is up and make a fist. The normal prostate feels like the spongy, muscular, fleshy tissue at the base of the thumb, whereas cancer feels hard, like the knuckle of the thumb.

DRE in conjunction with the PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test is the best means of screening for prostate cancer. Detection rates for prostate cancer are highest when using both tests, followed by PSA alone, followed by DRE alone.

The pathological features of prostate cancers detected on an abnormal DRE are, in general, less favorable than those of cancers detected by a PSA elevation. In other words, if the cancer can be felt, we tend to worry about it more than if it cannot be felt, as it is often at a more advanced stage.

Fact: The PSA blood test is NOT a substitute for the DRE. Both tests provide valuable and complementary information about your prostate health.

Bottom Line:  This simple test can be life-saving, so please “man up” and endure the momentary unpleasantness.  Remember that prostate cancer is the number 1 malignancy in men (aside from skin cancer) and cancers can be discovered on the basis of an abnormal DRE, even in the face of normal PSA. 

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

A new blog is posted weekly. To receive a free subscription with delivery to your email inbox visit the following link and click on “email subscription”:  www.HealthDoc13.WordPress.com

Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community. He is a urologist at New Jersey Urology, the largest urology practice in the United States.

The content of this entry is excerpted from his new book, PROSTATE CANCER 20/20: A Practical Guide to Understanding Management Options for Patients and Their Families

4 small

Video trailer for Prostate Cancer 20/20

Preview of Prostate Cancer 20/20

Andrew Siegel MD Amazon author page

Prostate Cancer 20/20 on Apple iBooks

Dr. Siegel’s other books:

FINDING YOUR OWN FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Health, Wellness, Fitness and Longevity

PROMISCUOUS EATING— Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual, and Urinary Health

 

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Reduce Your Risk For Prostate Cancer

April 6, 2019

Andrew Siegel MD  4/6/19

baseball-players

(Thank you, PublicDomainPictures.net for image above)

If you don’t want to read further, one simple thought to remember: You likely know what to do to maintain cardiac health: HEART-HEALTHY IS PROSTATE HEALTHY 

One of nine men in the USA will develop prostate cancer, the most common male malignancy (aside from skin cancer). On a baseball field, that’s one of the nine players on the field.  That’s scary common!

It would be awesome if the disease was preventable and would certainly lighten our urological work load. Although we are not there yet, we have become wiser and more enlightened about the means of decreasing chances of developing prostate cancer and also about earlier detection. 

The risk factors for the prostate cancer are aging, genetics, race and lifestyle.  The first three factors are beyond one’s control, but lifestyle is a modifiable risk factor. A healthy lifestyle, including a wholesome and nutritious diet, weight management, regular exercise and the avoidance of tobacco and excessive alcohol, can lessen one’s risk for all chronic diseases–cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a host of cancers including prostate cancer.  It can also slow the growth and progression of prostate cancer in those afflicted.

Consider the fact that when Asian men—who have very low rates of prostate cancer—emigrate to western countries, their risk of prostate cancer increases over time. Clearly, a calorie-rich, nutrient-poor, Western diet and sedentary lifestyle is associated with a higher occurrence of many preventable problems, including prostate cancer.

Not uncommonly, pre-cancerous biopsies predate the onset of prostate cancer by many years. This, coupled with the increasing prevalence of prostate cancer with aging, suggests that the process of developing prostate cancer takes place over a prolonged period of time. It is estimated to take many years—often more than a decade—from the initial prostate cell mutation to the time when prostate cancer manifests itself with either a PSA (prostate specific antigen blood test) elevation or acceleration or an abnormal digital rectal examination. In theory, this provides the opportunity for preventive measures and intervention before the establishment of a cancer.

Ways to Reduce Risk for Prostate Cancer (and Detect it Early if it Occurs)                                  

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is correlated with an increased risk for prostate cancer occurrence, recurrence, progression and death.  Research suggests a link between a high-fat diet and prostate cancer. In men with prostate cancer, the odds of spread and death are increased 1.3-fold in men with a body mass index (BMI) of 30-35 and 1.5-fold in men with a BMI > 35. Furthermore, carrying the burden of extra weight increases the complication rate following prostate cancer treatments.
  • Eat real foods and avoid refined, over-processed, nutritionally empty foods; be moderate with animal fats and dairy consumption.   A healthy diet includes whole grains and plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Anti-oxidants help protect cells from injury caused by free radicals, which can incur cellular damage and potentially cause cancer. Fruits such as berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries), red cabbage and eggplant contain abundant anthocyanins, anti-oxidant pigments that give red, blue and purple plants their vibrant coloring. Tomatoes, tomato products and other red fruits and vegetables are rich in lycopenes, which are bright red carotenoid anti-oxidant pigments. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale and cabbage) and dark green leafy vegetables are fiber-rich and contain lutein, a carotenoid anti-oxidant pigment. A healthy diet includes protein sources incorporating fish rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, sardines and trout), lean poultry and plant proteins (legumes, nuts and seeds). Processed and charred meats should be avoided.  Healthy vegetable-origin fats (olives, avocados, seeds and nuts) are preferred. An ideal diet that adheres to these general recommendations and is heart-healthy and prostate-healthy is the Mediterranean diet.
  • Avoid tobacco and excessive alcohol intake. Tobacco use is associated with more aggressive prostate cancers and a higher risk of prostate cancer progression, recurrence and death. Prostate cancer risk rises with heavy alcohol use, so moderation is recommended.
  • Stay active and exercise on a regular basis. Exercise lessens one’s risk of developing prostate cancer and decreases the death rate in those who do develop it. If stricken with prostate cancer, if one is physically fit, they will have an easier recovery from any intervention necessary to treat the disease.  Exercise positively influences energy metabolism, oxidative stress and the immune system. Pelvic floor muscle exercises benefit prostate health by increasing pelvic blood flow and decreasing the tone of the part of the nervous system stimulated by stress, which can aggravate urinary symptoms. Furthermore, pelvic floor muscle exercises strengthen the muscles surrounding the prostate so that if one develops prostate cancer and requires treatment, he will experience an expedited recovery of urinary control and sexual function.
  • Be proactive and see your doctor annually for a DRE (digital rectal exam) and a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test. The PSA test does not replace the DRE—both need to be done!  Abnormal findings on these screening tests are what prompt further evaluation, including MRI and prostate biopsy, the definitive means of diagnosing prostate cancer. The most common scenario that ultimately leads to a diagnosis of prostate cancer is a PSA acceleration, an elevation above the expected incremental annual PSA rise based upon the aging process.

Important: An isolated PSA (out of context) is not particularly helpful. What is meaningful is comparing PSA on a year-to-year basis and observing for any acceleration above and beyond the expected annual incremental change associated with aging and benign prostate growth. Many labs use a PSA of 4.0 as a cutoff for abnormal, so it is possible that you can be falsely lulled into the impression that your PSA is normal.  For example, if your PSA is 1.0 and a year later it is 3.0, it is still considered a “normal” PSA even though it has tripled (highly suspicious for a problem) and mandates further investigation.

  • Finasteride (Proscar and Propeciaand dutasteride (Avodart), commonly used to treat benign prostate enlargement, reduce prostate cancer risk. These medications block the conversion of testosterone to its activated form that promotes prostate growth and male-pattern baldness. They help prevent prostate cancer, shrink the prostate, can improve lower urinary tract symptoms, help avoid prostate surgery, and grow hair on one’s scalp…a fountain of youth dispensed in a pill form!

Bottom Line:  When it comes to health, it is advantageous to be proactive instead of reactive, making every effort to prevent problems instead of having to fix them.  The cliché “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is relevant to prostate cancer as it is to other health issues including diabetes and heart disease. A healthy lifestyle, including a wholesome and nutritious diet, maintaining proper weight, exercising regularly and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol can lessen one’s risk of all chronic diseases, including prostate cancer.  Be proactive by getting a 15-second digital exam of the prostate and PSA blood test annually. 

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

A new blog is posted weekly. To receive a free subscription with delivery to your email inbox visit the following link and click on “email subscription”:  www.HealthDoc13.WordPress.com

Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community. He is a urologist at New Jersey Urology, the largest urology practice in the United States.

The content of this entry is excerpted from his new book, PROSTATE CANCER 20/20: A Practical Guide to Understanding Management Options for Patients and Their Families

4 small

Video trailer for Prostate Cancer 20/20

Preview of Prostate Cancer 20/20

Andrew Siegel MD Amazon author page

Prostate Cancer 20/20 on Apple iBooks

Dr. Siegel’s other books:

FINDING YOUR OWN FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Health, Wellness, Fitness and Longevity

PROMISCUOUS EATING— Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual, and Urinary Health

 

 

6 Ways To Reduce Your Risk Of Prostate Cancer

May 13, 2017

Andrew Siegel MD  5/13/17

Prostate cancer is incredibly common– one man in seven will be diagnosed with it in his lifetime–with average age at diagnosis mid 60s. In 2015, an estimated 221,000 American men were diagnosed and 28,000 men died of the disease.  Although many with low-risk prostate cancer can be managed with careful observation and monitoring, those with moderate-risk and high-risk disease need to be managed more aggressively. With proper evaluation and treatment, only 3% of men will die of the disease. There are over 2.5 million prostate cancer survivors who are alive today.

Factoid: The #1 cause of death in men with prostate cancer is heart disease, as it is in the rest of the population. 

finger 2

This is the index finger of yours truly; observe the narrow digit, a most desirable feature for a urologist who examines many prostates in any given day.  The digital rectal exam of the prostate is a 15-second exam that is at most a bit uncomfortable, but vital in the screening process and certainly nothing to fear.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if prostate cancer could be prevented? Unfortunately, we are not there yet—but we do have an understanding of measures that can be pursued to help minimize your chances of developing prostate cancer.

Factoid: When Asian men–who have one of the lowest rates of prostate cancer– migrate to western countries, their risk of prostate cancer increases over time. Clearly, a coronary-clogging western diet high in animal fat and highly processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables is associated with a higher incidence of many preventable problems, including prostate cancer.

The presence of prostate cancer pre-cancerous lesions commonly seen on prostate biopsy—including high-grade prostate intraepithelial neoplasia (HGPIN) and atypical small acinar proliferation (ASAP)—many years before the onset of prostate cancer, coupled with the fact the prostate cancer increases in prevalence with aging, suggest that the process of developing prostate cancer takes place over a protracted period of time. It is estimated that it takes many years—often more than a decade—from the initial prostate cell mutation to the time when prostate cancer manifests with either a PSA elevation, an acceleration in PSA, or an abnormal digital rectal examination. In theory, this provides the opportunity for intervention before the establishment of a cancer.

Measures to Reduce Your Risk of Prostate Cancer

  1. Maintain a healthy weight since obesity has been correlated with an increased prostate cancer incidence.
  2. Consume a healthy diet with abundant fruits and vegetables (full of anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber) and real food, as opposed to processed and refined foods. Eat plenty of red vegetables and fruits including tomato products (rich in lycopene). Consume isoflavones (chickpeas, tofu, lentils, alfalfa sprouts, peanuts). Eat animal fats and dairy in moderation. Consume fatty fish containing omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, sardines, trout and mackerel.  Follow the advice of Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
  3. Avoid tobacco and excessive alcohol intake.
  4. Stay active and exercise on a regular basis. If you do develop prostate cancer, you will be in tip-top physical shape and will heal that much better from any intervention necessary to treat the prostate cancer.
  5. Get checked out! Be proactive by seeing your doctor annually for a digital rectal exam of the prostate and a PSA blood test. Abnormal findings on these screening tests are what prompt prostate biopsies, the definitive means of diagnosing prostate cancer. The most common scenario that ultimately leads to a diagnosis of prostate cancer is a PSA acceleration, an elevation above the expected incremental annual PSA rise based upon the aging process.

Important Factoid: An isolated PSA (out of context) is not particularly helpful. What is meaningful is comparing PSA on a year-to-year basis and observing for any acceleration above and beyond the expected annual incremental change associated with aging and benign prostate growth. Many labs use a PSA of 4.0 as a cutoff for abnormal, so it is possible that you can be falsely lulled into the impression that your PSA is normal.  For example, if your PSA is 1.0 and a year later it is 3.0, it is still considered a “normal” PSA even though it has tripled (highly suspicious for a problem) and mandates further investigation. 

  1. Certain medications reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 25% or so and may be used for those at high risk, including men with a strong family history of prostate cancer or those with pre-cancerous biopsies. These medications include Finasteride and Dutasteride, which are commonly used to treat benign prostate enlargement as well as male pattern hair loss. These medications lower the PSA by 50%, so any man taking this class of medication will need to double their PSA in order to approximate the actual PSA. If the PSA does not drop, or if it goes up while on this class of medication, it is suspicious for undiagnosed prostate cancer. By shrinking benign prostate growth, these medications also increase the ability of the digital rectal exam to detect an abnormality.

Bottom Line: A healthy lifestyle, including a wholesome and nutritious diet, maintaining proper weight, participating in an exercise program and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol can lessen one’s risk of all chronic diseases, including prostate cancer.  Be proactive by getting a 15-second digital exam of the prostate and PSA blood test annually.  Prevention and early detection are the key elements to maintaining both quantity and quality of life. 

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

http://www.AndrewSiegelMD.com

A new blog is posted every week. To receive the blogs in the in box of your email go to the following link and click on “email subscription”:  www.HealthDoc13.WordPress.com

Dr. Andrew Siegel is a practicing physician and urological surgeon board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  Dr. Siegel serves as Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community that is in such dire need of bridging.

Author of MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health http://www.MalePelvicFitness.com

Author of THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health  http://www.TheKegelFix.com

 

Prostate Cancer Screening: What’s New?

February 28, 2015

Andrew Siegel MD 2/28/15

The Dilemma

The downside of screening is over-detection of low-risk prostate cancer that may never prove to be problematic, but may result in unnecessary treatment with adverse consequences. The downside of not screening is the under-detection of aggressive prostate cancer, with adverse consequences from necessary treatment not being given.

The Buck Stops Here

Prostate biopsy (ultrasound guided) is the definitive and conclusive test for prostate cancer. An elevated PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test or an abnormal DRE (digital rectal exam) are the findings that typically lead to the recommendation for prostate biopsy.

What’s New In Prostate Cancer Screening?

The following are refinements in the screening process that can help make the decision about whether or not to proceed with a prostate biopsy, potentially sparing some from the need to undergo the biopsy and clearly indicating the need for biopsy in others.

  • Free PSA
  • PSA Velocity
  • PSA Density
  • PCA-3
  • Prostate MRI
  • 4K Score

Free PSA

PSA circulates in the blood in a “free” form, which it is unbound and a “complex” form, in which it is bound to a protein. The free/total PSA can enhance the specificity of PSA testing. The greater the free/total PSA, the greater the chances that benign enlargement of the prostate is the cause of the PSA elevation. In men with a PSA between 4-10, the probability of cancer is less than 10% if the ratio is greater than 25% whereas the probability of cancer is almost 60% if the ratio is less than 10%.

PSA Velocity

It is extremely useful to compare the PSA values from year to year. Under normal circumstances, PSA increases by only a small increment, reflecting age-related benign prostate growth. PSA acceleration at a rate greater than anticipated is a red flag that may be indicative of prostate cancer and is one of the most common prompts for undergoing biopsy.

PSA Density

There is a direct relationship between prostate size and PSA, with larger prostates producing higher PSA levels. PSA density (PSA/prostate volume) is the relationship of the PSA level to the size of the prostate. PSA density > 0.15 is a red flag that may be indicative of prostate cancer.

PCA-3 (Prostate Cancer Antigen-3)

PCA-3 is a specific type of RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) that is released in high levels by prostate cancer cells. Its expression is 60-100x greater in prostate cancer cells than benign prostate cells, which makes this test much more specific for prostate cancer than PSA.  PCA-3 is a urine test. The prostate is gently “massaged” via DRE to “milk” prostate fluid into the urethra. The first ounce of urine voided immediately after massage is rich in prostatic fluid and cells and is collected and tested for the quantity of PCA-3 genetic material present. Urinary levels of PCA-3 are not affected by prostate enlargement or inflammation, as opposed to PSA levels. PCA-3 > 25 is suspicious for prostate cancer.

Prostate MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

MRI is a high-resolution imaging test that does not require the use of radiation and is capable of showing the prostate and surrounding tissues in multiple planes of view, identifying suspicious areas. MRI uses a powerful Tesla magnet and sophisticated software that performs image-analysis, assisting radiologists in interpreting and scoring MRI results. A validated scoring system known as PI-RADS (Prostate Imaging Reporting and Data System) is used. This scoring system helps urologists make decisions about whether to biopsy the prostate and if so, how to optimize the biopsy.

PI-RADS classification Definition
I Most probably benign
II Probably benign
III Indeterminate
IV Probable cancer
V Most probably cancer

4Kscore Test

The 4Kscore Test measures the blood content of four different prostate-derived proteins: Total PSA, Free PSA, Intact PSA and Human Kallikrein 2. Levels of these biomarkers are combined with a patient’s age, DRE status (abnormal DRE vs. normal DRE), and history of prior biopsy status (prior prostate biopsy vs. no prior prostate biopsy). These factors are processed using an algorithm to calculate the risk of finding a Gleason score 7 or higher (aggressive) prostate cancer if a prostate biopsy were to be performed. The test can increase the accuracy of prostate cancer diagnosis, particularly in its most aggressive forms.

(It cannot be used if a patient has received a DRE in the previous 4 days, nor can it be used if one has been on Avodart or Proscar within the previous six months. Additionally, it cannot be used in patients that have within the previous six months undergone any procedure to treat symptomatic prostate enlargement or any invasive urologic procedure that may be associated with a PSA elevation.)

As of now, the test is not covered by insurance and costs $395 from the lab that performs it.

Bottom Line: Excluding skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men (accounting for 26% of newly diagnosed cancers with men having a 1 in 7 lifetime risk). The median age of prostate cancer at diagnosis is the mid 60’s and there are 221,000 new cases per year, 27,500 deaths (the second most common form of cancer death, after lung cancer) and there are currently about 2.5 million prostate cancer survivors in the USA.  It is important to diagnose prostate cancer as early as possible in order to decide on the most appropriate form of management–surgery, radiation, or observation/monitoring (the most common treatment pathways, although there are other options as well).  These refinements in the screening process can help urologists make the decision about whether or not to proceed with a prostate biopsy.  

 

Wishing you the best in health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

http://www.AndrewSiegelMD.com

A new blog is posted every week. To receive the blogs in the inbox of your email go to the following link and click on “email subscription”: www.HealthDoc13.WordPress.com

Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health:available in e-book (Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, B & N Nook, Kobo) and paperback: http://www.MalePelvicFitness.com

Private Gym Male Pelvic Floor Muscle Training  Program: http://www.PrivateGym.com -available on Amazon as well as Private Gym website

 

Must My Prostate Cancer Be Treated?

January 4, 2014

Blog # 135

“To do nothing, that’s something.”

Samuel Shem, The House of God

Prostate cancer needs to be accorded respect as there are 240,000 new cases diagnosed annually and it accounts for 30,000 deaths per year, being the second leading cause of cancer death in men, only behind lung cancer.

Unlike many other malignancies, prostate cancer is often not a lethal disease and may never need to be treated. Shocking, right…a cancer that does not necessarily need to be cut out or managed in any way! Patients with slow-growing, early stage cancer as well as older men with other health issues may be put on surveillance, aka watchful waiting, as opposed to traditional treatment with surgery or radiation.

The problem is that not all prostate cancers are slow-growing and early stage, and the challenge is how to predict the future behavior of the cancer so as to treat it appropriately—offering cure to those with aggressive cancer, but sparing the side effects of treatment in those who have non-aggressive cancer. The goal of active surveillance is to allow men with low risk prostate cancer to avoid radical treatment with its associated morbidity and/or delay definitive treatment until signs of progression occur. This involves two things—vigilant monitoring and a compliant patient who is compulsive about follow-up.

The ratio of 7:1 of the lifetime likelihood of diagnosis of prostate cancer (about 1 in 6 men) to death from prostate cancer (about 1 in 40 men) points out that many men with prostate cancer have an indolent (i.e., slow growing) cancer. Because of this fact, an alternative strategy to aggressive management of all men with prostate cancer is active surveillance, a structured means of careful follow-up with rigorous monitoring and immediate intervention should signs of progression develop. Being a candidate for this approach is based upon the results of the PSA blood test, findings on the digital rectal exam, and the details of the biopsy, which usually involves obtaining one dozen samples of prostate tissue.

General eligibility criteria for active surveillance include all of the following (Note that these are basic guidelines and need to be modified in accordance with patient age and general health— certainly if one has a life expectancy < 10 years, he would be a good candidate for active surveillance, regardless of the following):

  • PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) less or equal to 10 (PSA is the blood test that when elevated or accelerated indicates the possibility of a problem with the prostate and is often followed by a prostate ultrasound/biopsy)
  • Gleason score 6 or less (possible score 2-10, more about this below)
  • Stage T1c-T2a

 (T1c = picked up by PSA with normal prostate on rectal exam; T2a = picked up by abnormal prostate on rectal exam, involving only one side of the prostate)
  • Less then 3 of 12 biopsy cores involved with cancer
  • Less then 50% of any one core involved with cancer

Prostate cancer grade is often the most reliable indicator of the potential for growth and spread. The Gleason score provides one of the best guides to the prognosis and treatment of prostate cancer and is based on a pathologist’s microscopic examination of prostate tissue. To determine a Gleason score, a pathologist assigns a separate numerical grade to the two most predominant architectural patterns of the cancer cells. The numbers range from 1 (the cells look nearly normal) to 5 (the cells have the most cancerous appearance). The sum of the two grades is the Gleason score. The lowest possible score is 2, which rarely occurs; the highest is 10. The Gleason score can predict the aggressiveness and behavior of the cancer. High scores tend to suggest a worse prognosis than lower scores because the more deranged and mutated cells usually grow faster than the more normal-appearing ones.

Prostate cancers can be “triaged” into one of three groupings based upon Gleason score. Scores of 2-4 are considered low grade; 5-7, intermediate grade; 8-10, high grade.

The active surveillance monitoring schedule is typically:

  • PSA and DRE every 3-6 months for several years, then annually
  • Prostate biopsies: one year after initial diagnosis, then periodically until age 80 or so (once again, a judgment call)

As long as the cancer remains low-risk, the surveillance protocol may be continued, sparing the patient the potential side effects of surgery or radiation.

Another meaningful way of predicting the behavior of prostate cancer is by using the PSA Doubling Time (PSADT)—defined as the amount of time it takes for the PSA to double. A short PSA doubling time is indicative of an aggressive, rapidly growing tumor, whereas a long PSA doubling time is indicative of an indolent, slow growing tumor. A PSADT of less than 3 years is clearly associated with the potential for progression of prostate cancer.

A change in plan from active surveillance to more active intervention needs to be instituted if any of the following occurs:

  • PSA doubling time is noted to be less then 3 years
  • Biopsy reveals grade progression to Gleason 7 or higher
  • Biopsy reveals increased prostate cancer volume

Approximately half of men on active surveillance remain free of progression at ten years, and definitive treatment is most often effective in those with progression. The absence of cancer on repeated prostate biopsy (because the cancer is of such low volume) identifies men who are unlikely to have progressive prostate cancer.

Bottom Line: Active surveillance is an effective means of minimizing over-treatment of indolent prostate cancer and avoiding the side effects of immediate treatment. Its disadvantages are the need for frequent and repeated testing and biopsy, the anxiety of living with untreated prostate cancer, and the possibility that delayed treatment may not be curative, although that is not usually the case.

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

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Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com

Available on Amazon in Kindle edition

Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; in press and available in e-book and paperback formats in  2014.

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Screening For Prostate Cancer Revisited

December 14, 2013

Blog # 132

The ignoramuses at the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) gave Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) testing a grade “D” recommendation and called for the complete abandonment of the test for prostate cancer screening.

Having lived and worked deep within the trenches of urology for over 25 years, I almost stroked when I read their recommendation. I previously crafted video responses: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8fpxszVMTQ

and gave a “horse’s ass” award to the USPSTF in another video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIIZjk9lrlM

The Prostate Cancer World Congress took place in Melbourne Australia in August of 2013, where experts proposed a consensus view on the early detection of prostate cancer.  This material was published in the British Journal of Urology International.

The consensus was engendered by the great confusion generated after the USPSTF called for the total abandonment of PSA testing. The international experts who wrote the consensus statement included 14 international experts on prostate cancer, unlike the USPSTF, where there was not a single urologist on the committee.

The experts at the Prostate Cancer World Congress adopted the following five statements:   

  1. For men age 50–69, evidence demonstrates that PSA testing reduces death from prostate cancer by 21% and the incidence of metastatic prostate cancer by 30%.
  2. Prostate cancer diagnosis must be uncoupled from prostate cancer intervention.  In other words, not everyone with prostate cancer will need to be actively treated and the potential side effects of active treatment should not influence the diagnosis of prostate cancer by the proper means.
  3. PSA testing should not be considered on its own, but rather as part of a multivariable approach to early prostate cancer detection.  The experts proposed the use of prostate examination, family history, ethnic background, prostate volume, as well as a variety of risk models based upon PSA.
  4. Baseline PSA testing for men in their 40s is useful for predicting the future of prostate cancer. Men with baseline values that are high need further PSA testing.
  5. Older men in good health with over a 10-year life expectancy should not be denied PSA testing on the basis of their age.   This population of older men may certainly benefit from the early diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancers. This does not pertain to men with numerous other significant medical problems, but a healthy man in his mid-70s should not be denied PSA testing that might identify a cancer that has the potential to destroy his quantity and quality of life.  (In particular, the older man who comes to the office accompanied by his father should certainly not be denied!)

The consensus was that we should maintain the gains that have been made over the years since PSA was introduced—in terms of decreasing the number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer metastases (cancer that has spread) and reducing prostate cancer deaths—while minimizing the potential harms of over-diagnosis and overtreatment by increasing the use of active surveillance protocols in those men with low-risk prostate cancer.   Abandoning PSA testing as recommended by the USPSTF would lead to a reversal of all gains made over the course of the past 30 years.  Well-informed men should be offered the opportunity for early diagnosis of prostate cancer. To quote Dr. Jay Smith:  “Treatment or non-treatment decisions can be made once the cancer is found, but not knowing about it in the first place surely burns bridges.”

My take on the subject of screening for prostate cancer:

I like to keep things simple…I believe in two rules that are appropriate for medicine as well as just about everything in life.

Rule # 1: Do no harm.

Rule # 2: Do good.

To apply these rules to the game of golf, for example, “do no harm” means staying out of trouble as much as possible, keeping the ball out of the woods, bunkers and water hazards.  “Do good” by hitting the ball accurately in terms of distance and direction and setting up the next shot.

Screening for prostate cancer involves taking a medical history, doing a rectal exam to check the contour and consistency of the prostate, and a simple PSA blood test. “Do no harm” is satisfied because these tests are in no way harmful to the patient and provide information that is helpful, particularly when done on a serial basis, noting changes over time.

If exam shows an irregularity of the prostate, if the PSA is elevated, or if the PSA has accelerated significantly over the course of one year in a reasonably healthy man who has at least a ten-year life expectancy, doing a prostate ultrasound and biopsy is indicated. This test does entail a small risk of bleeding and infection, but the potential benefits far outweigh the risks.  “Doing good” is satisfied by the knowledge provided by the biopsy—the reassurance that comes from a biopsy report that shows no cancer and the potential for cure if the biopsy shows cancer.  Furthermore, the specific biopsy results along with other factors can predict which cancers are low-risk, which are medium-risk, and which are high-risk, important considerations in terms of active treatment versus active surveillance.

Many men who are found to have low-risk prostate cancer (low PSA; minimum number of biopsies showing cancer; low-grade cancer as determined by the pathologist) can be followed without active treatment (active surveillance) and those at greater risk can be managed appropriately (surgery or radiation), and many cured, avoiding the potential for progression of cancer and painful metastases and death—all while weighing the benefits of intervention against the risks.  Death from prostate cancer is unpleasant to say the least, often involving painful metastases to the spine and pelvis and not uncommonly, kidney and bladder obstruction, and our charge as urologists is to try to not let this scenario ever come to fruition.

One of our fundamental goals as urologists is to screen for prostate cancer—

the most common cancer in men present in 17% of the population—and if present, to provide appropriate guidance to best maintain both quality and quantity of life.  Anyone who reads the obituaries knows that prostate cancer is a cancer that is lethal, and if you don’t read the obituaries, I can promise you that prostate cancer kills in unkind ways. Even though only 3% of the male population dies from prostate cancer, that amounts to many thousands of men annually… and you do not want to be one of them.  I have my own PSA and prostate exam done every year and PSA screening was responsible for making an early diagnosis of my father’s prostate cancer in 1997, which was cured by surgery, resulting in a healthy and thriving, cancer-free 82 year-old man who will never die from prostate cancer.

BOTTOM LINE: PSA remains an invaluable screening tool for the detection of prostate cancer and ALL men ages 50 and over (40 if there is a family history) should be tested…IT JUST MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE!

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

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Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com

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Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; in press and available in e-book and paperback formats in January 2014.

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