June is Men’s Health Month and the most common male-only issue that gets talked about around this time as well as the upcoming Father’s Day observance is the walnut-sized gland residing in males only…the prostate. The prostate’s only job is to store and produce seminal fluid. Back in time to health class 101: Seminal fluid is the milky liquid that nourishes sperm.
I think I speak for a majority of men in their early forties when I say wholeheartedly and emphatically that I am not looking forward to a prostate exam.
By now (remember, we’re in our forties?), we’ve heard the war drums of exam horror stories. Some 40-some-year-old guy is at the doc for a normal physical and is all set for getting his cojones cupped and turning his head ninety degrees and fake coughing but then the vicious Verlander curve ball is thrown. That same doc, who all of a sudden, has the longest, fattest fingers and what the guy swears were demon horns growing out of his head, tells him to drop trou so he can insert his piano-playing, Arsenio Hall-like finger into his rectum (that’s ‘butthole’ for the more casual observer) to check his prostate all in the name of cancer prevention.
Here’s the part of this article where I calm one of my fellow men’s deepest, darkest fears.
For many men in need of a prostate cancer screening, a simple blood test is the better option. Yes, seriously.
As with all cancers, early detection is still one of the strongest tools in minimizing the effects of prostate cancer. If found in its earliest, most treatable stage, the impact on nerve damage and other side effects from many of the common treatments is significantly minimized. The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) Test is a simple blood test that measures PSA levels. Now, admittedly, if your PSA levels are high, you’re getting the finger. For the sake of this article, let’s assume that your PSA levels are a little elevated OR you have a family history of prostate cancer (two risk factors that would require you to seek prostate screenings earlier and more frequent than normal).
Here’s where the rubber glove meets the rectum…
I’ve been told by doctors that prostate cancer could be all but wiped out, but too many men refuse to get the digital rectal exam (DRE) – translation: finger up the keester. You wouldn’t believe the reasons I’ve heard from doctors on why their male patients won’t get this very necessary exam:
‘It’ll make me gay.’
‘What if I like it?’
‘I don’t want to get an erection.’
‘I didn’t wipe my ass good enough.’
‘What if I fart?’
‘It will hurt.’
Blah, blah and blah. All of these are good enough reasons to risk screening for prostate cancer? Hardly.
I get it. As a species, men generally don’t like pain or being uncomfortable. I mean, we would’ve probably faced extinction a long time ago if men were the ones to have babies. (Sidebar: Do not, I repeat, do NOT complain to women about the prostate exam. You will not like the response). But here are the facts: among men in the United States, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer, excluding skin cancers, with nearly 220,000 new cases diagnosed each year. One man in six will get prostate cancer during his lifetime.
The unfortunate symptoms of prostate cancer include difficulty starting urine flow, pain during urination, loss of weight and appetite, blood in urine or painful ejaculation (wow, isn’t that an oxymoron?). If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you could have prostate cancer. And again, like other cancers, once you notice symptoms, it could be too late. That’s why the PSA blood test and/or the fingy in the dingy is so important. Unless, of course, you LIKE chemotherapy and radiation therapy – you know…hair loss, mouth sores, extreme sensitivity to hot and cold, nausea, fatigue, etc.
Ultimately, decisions about screening should be individualized based on a man’s level of risk, overall health, and life expectancy, as well as his desire for eventual treatment if he is diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, it should never be discounted or avoided out of fear, being unaware or uneducated.
If you’re over forty and your doctor recommends a prostate exam, use your ‘first line of defense’: Ask for the PSA blood test. If your PSA levels are all good and it ends there…cool. If your PSA levels are a little high, take the finger like a man and be done with it.
It could save your life.