By Pamela Dent

September brings the end of summer, a new school year … and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. While we are busy ensuring children get an education, it is also important to educate men — and those who love them — about prostate cancer prevention. Prostate cancer isn't something people like to talk about, so it's no wonder there remains a great deal of confusion surrounding this disease. Having the conversation about risk factors and overall health is crucial.

According to American Cancer Society's statistics, 11,500 new cases of prostate cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the state of Pennsylvania alone in 2011. Early detection, screening and knowledge can be the keys to a good outcome; so read on, men — and women too. Women often persuade the men in their lives to schedule screenings or make appointments for them.

I'd like to discuss five myths of prostate cancer.

  • Myth No. 1: Prostate cancer is a disease that affects only old men. 
The older you are, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, 35 percent are diagnosed at an early age. If you are an African-American man, or if you have a close relative (father or brother) who had prostate cancer before age 65, start talking to your doctor about prostate cancer when you turn 40. If you are in good health with no family history, then start talking with your health care professional about getting tested at 50.

  • Myth No. 2: I don't have any symptoms, so I don't have prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer in early stages will not show the symptoms and not all men will experience symptoms. Signs of prostate cancer are often first detected by a doctor during a routine check-up. That being said, some common symptoms include: urinary problems (not being able to urinate, having trouble starting or stopping urine flow, etc.); painful or a difficult erection; pain in lower back, pelvis or upper thighs. If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your doctor.

  • Myth No. 3: When I take the PSA test, I don't have to worry if I have a low PSA. If I have a high PSA level, that means that I have prostate cancer.
A low PSA does not rule out the presence of prostate cancer. While most men with prostate cancer will have elevated PSA levels, many men each year will be diagnosed with prostate cancer that have low or normal PSA levels. The PSA test is not perfect, but serves as a first alert or the first step in the diagnostic process for cancer. It has made detection of cancer in its early stages, when it is best treated, possible. A prostate biopsy, however, is the only way to definitively diagnose prostate cancer.

  • Myth No. 4: Prostate cancer doesn't run in my family, so I don't have to worry about getting it.
While a family history of prostate cancer doubles a man's odds of being diagnosed with it, the fact remains that one out of six American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. The risk is further increased if the cancer was diagnosed in a family member at a younger age (less than 55 years old), or if it affected three or more family members.

  • Myth No. 5: I can pass my prostate cancer to others.

The answer for this is "no". Prostate cancer is not transferable, infectious or communicable. There is no way for you to pass it on to someone else. However, genetics do play a part in your risk of developing cancer; it is recommended that you speak openly with your family and loved ones.

Know the facts. Share them with your loved ones. And contact your health care provider with any questions or concerns. For more information, visit http://www.preventcancer.org.

Pamela Dent is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, and the spouse of U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-15.

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