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Understanding Prostate Cancer

5 Things You Should Do If You've Been Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer

(Read time: 5 minutes) 

This article is not intended to replace professional medical care or advice. If you have any questions or need additional information, please talk with your doctor. 

It can come as a shock: You or a loved one has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Suddenly, the future may feel uncertain. The worst possible outcome may loom large in your imagination. A prostate cancer diagnosis may leave you and your family members feeling numb, frightened, angry, or even confused, according to Cancer Research UK 

It’s important to remember that these reactions are normal. This is not the time to give up. Right after you receive a cancer diagnosis, you need the support of your loved ones most.  

It’s important to mention that earlier treatment or intervention may improve survival rates. Many men have successfully beat prostate cancer and entered remission. In fact, prostate cancer survival rates are some of the best modern medicine has ever seen: 

  • 5-year survival rate for local or regional prostate cancer: ~100% 
  • 10-year survival rate: 98% 
  • 15-year survival rate: 96% 

With numbers like those, it’s not too hard to remain hopeful. Knowing your options, and the next steps you should take, go a long way towards fighting this disease. The more you know, the more equipped you’ll be to handle diagnosis and treatment.  

Here are the five things you should do if you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer: 

1. Learn about staging and risk assessment 

Multiple factors play a role in determining certain characteristics of your prostate cancer. Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, digital rectal exam (DRE) findings, and biopsy samples help provide insight into the grade and risk of your disease state. 

Pathologists assign what’s called a Gleason score, which gives clusters of cancerous cells a score of 1 to 5 to determine the severity of prostate cancer: 

  • Grade 1: Small, uniformed cells tightly packed together 
  • Grade 2: Varying cell sizes and shapes, loosely packed together
  • Grade 3: Increased cell size and shape irregularity
  • Grade 4: Large, irregular and fused cells
  • Grade 5: Irregular, fused cells that have joined surrounding tissue cells 

TNM staging system is also used to determine how far prostate cancer has spread within and beyond the prostate using five key pieces of information including PSA level, Gleason score, and three category, or stage, classifications.  Generally speaking, T-category prostate cancer is largely confined to (or near) the prostate, N-category prostate cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and M-category prostate cancer has spread beyond surrounding lymph nodes. 

Learn more: Prostate cancer Diagnosing grading and staging 

2. Understand treatment options and risks 

Regardless of your Gleason score or prostate cancer stage, every patient’s situation is unique. It’s important that you fully understand yours by discussing it with your physician. 

If you accurately diagnose and treat your prostate cancer, you can have a better chance of preventing it from getting worse (and potentially spreading beyond the prostate).  

The three main types of prostate cancer treatment are active surveillance, radiation therapy, and surgical removal (called a prostatectomy). There are benefits and drawbacks to each treatment type.  

For example, if prostate cancer is already spreading but was misdiagnosed or missed altogether, active surveillance may not be the best course of action. Similarly, a prostatectomy could be unnecessary if your prostate cancer is confined to a single, small T-stage tumor that can be closely monitored. 

This is why working closely with your medical team to accurately diagnose your prostate cancer is so important. Accurate and early diagnosis followed by active, consistent treatment is the best path to fighting prostate cancer and preventing a recurrence. 

Learn more: What Are the Treatment Options for Prostate Cancer 

3. Get a second opinion  

It’s perfectly fine, and even encouraged, to get a second or even third opinion if you don’t feel comfortable with your diagnosis and treatment plan or want to know all of your options before making an informed decision. 

Prostate cancer can be very complex, and different healthcare and medical professionals may have different assessments and recommendations for the optimal treatment path for your situation. For example, a urologist may suggest something different than a radiation oncologist. 

The more professionals you speak with, the more informed you will be. Keep in mind that your treatment plan may last for months, if not years. Active surveillance can last for 10–15 years. And prostate cancer may even go into remission after a decade or more of treatment. 

With that kind of timeline on the horizon, it makes sense to get as many opinions as you can afford to before settling on your treatment plan. 

Learn more: Why I encourage my patients to get a second opinion 

4. Find support after a diagnosis 

The period of time right after a positive diagnosis of prostate cancer can be very lonely. You may feel hopeless, anxious, apprehensive, and even alienated from your friends and family. But you’re not alone. Millions of men have experienced and continue to live with prostate cancer around the world. 

In fact, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About  1 in 9 men get prostate cancer in their lifetime and it is estimated that about 175,000 new cases will be diagnosed annually in the U.S. alone. 

In addition to speaking with family, friends, and your community, consider joining a support or advocacy group. This will connect you with a community of like-minded people who can understand what you’re going through.  

Cancer Support Community, a global network that links those with cancer to appropriate groups, reports that decades of research have proven that participating in support groups is an effective method of coping with cancer. 

Learn more: HOW TO FIND SUPPORT AFTER A DIAGNOSIS 

5. Assemble your healthcare team 

Having a robust support network can teach you a lot about coping and living with prostate cancer. One of the most important benefits of these types of support groups, of course, is the referrals. 

Many people have gone through what you’re going through now, and many of them have relied on trustworthy doctors and specialists. 

Needless to say, finding the right team of prostate cancer doctors and specialists is important. Working with a team of experts in your specific type of cancer can aid in your decision-making process and give you peace of mind.  

It is vitally important to fully understand your condition, recognize the challenges on the road ahead, and commit to the right treatment plan for the long haul. 

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