Top myths surrounding prostate cancer

As with the majority of cancers and even common chronic illnesses, prostate cancer is a perplexing and multifarious disease that can often feel overwhelming to fully digest. Should you take the PSA test ? Does treatment necessarily improve your quality of life? Is prostate cancer genetic? As new research continues to fuel advancements in treatment, and more accurate knowledge of prostate cancer emerges every day, there are still different trains of thought and opinion on everything from testing and treatment to quality of life and longevity.

In today's world of bombarding media and the 24-7 news cycle, it's often difficult to decipher fact from fiction. To set the record straight, here are the most common prostate cancer myths and the facts.

Myth #1: Prostate cancer is only possible if there are symptoms

"A lack of symptoms does not equate to being prostate cancer-free."

One of the most common misconceptions surrounding this cancer is that if there are no symptoms, the patient is cancer-free. The truth is that most men with early stage prostate cancer will not show any symptoms at all, according to Prostate Cancer UK. More often than not, prostate cancer is first detected during a routine check-up rather than from symptoms. If symptoms do occur they may include problems with urinating including pain, weakened flow, discomfort and a sense of urgency. Other signs include blood in semen or urine and painful ejaculation.

Myth #2: The prostate-specific antigen exam tests for cancer
Approved by the FDA in 1986, the PSA doesn't test for cancer cells though it can help lead to the detection of cancer. The cells of the prostate produce the protein PSA and the exam measures how much PSA is in the blood, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). 

The PSA test was originally intended to monitor prostate cancer patients who had already been diagnosed. It soon began to do more than just measure the progression of the disease and by 1996 was being used with a digital rectal exam to test asymptomatic men during routine exams. For many years after, routine PSA screening was the norm, advised by the majority of doctors and health care professionals in the field. However, as research and clinical studies began to make clear that early PSA testing may not always outweigh the benefits, and that it may in fact do more harm than good in some cases, several medical organizations have recently changed their stance, noted the NCI.

Myth #3: The PSA exam is a definitive indicator of prostate cancer

Medical experts and doctors remained divided on whether or not the benefits of early screening outweigh the harms.Medical experts and doctors remained divided on whether or not the benefits of early screening outweigh the harms.

As explained above, the PSA test is not perfect and thus, not always the most effective indicator of prostate cancer. Though an elevated PSA level is often caused by prostate cancer, a higher than normal reading can also indicate non-cancerous conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis or a urinary tract infection. Moreover, not all men diagnosed with the disease have high PSA levels, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF). In fact, there have been men with very high PSA levels who did not end up having prostate cancer. Men who struggle with weight or obesity also run the risk of a diluted PSA level.

To fully understand what your PSA level may mean, it is best to have an open and thorough conversation with your physician.

Myth #4: Increased sexual activity is a risk factor
Though this was once believed to be true, ejaculation and sexual activity have not been found to link to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer, noted the PCF.

Myth #5: Prostate cancer only affects older men
The likelihood of developing prostate cancer does increase with age, but 1 in 38 men between the ages of 40 and 59 are also diagnosed, according to the PCF. Many young men have been diagnosed with this cancer, so claiming it as an "old man's disease" is not quite accurate. Additional outside factors such as genetics, lifestyle and race especially play a role, as African American men are nearly 2.5 times more likely than Caucasian men to die from prostate cancer.