You just received a prostate cancer diagnosis. You’re likely confused, surprised, afraid and a whole host of other emotions. Those feelings are normal. And you may know men who didn’t do well after a prostate cancer diagnosis, particularly black men, who are often diagnosed at a younger age and with a more aggressive form of the disease, but don’t panic. Learn your options and take these steps to ensure the best outcome.
1. Ask questions. Your first move is to get educated. Meet with experienced health care providers. Take family or friends with you; they’re your support team and can ask questions and take notes in case you miss something. Don’t leave the doctor’s office without answers to these questions:
- How aggressive is my cancer? Prostate cancer is usually slow growing. But some men—particularly black men—may have more aggressive forms of the disease. Your doctor may use the Gleason score, a sum of two scores that ranges from 2 to 10, with 10 being the most aggressive, to assess this. Most men diagnosed with prostate cancer have a score of 6 or 7. Or he may use the Cancer of the Prostate Risk Assessment score.
- Do I need additional imaging? Tests to see exactly where the cancer is in your body include magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography and positron electronic topography. You’ll want to be diagnosed somewhere that has access to these newer imaging technologies to make sure your cancer is staged accurately.
- Should I have my tumor assessed using personalized medicine? Also known as genomic profiling and genomic testing, personalized medicine enables cancer experts to custom build a strategy for your cancer treatment based on prostate tumor cells taken during a biopsy. Learning the unique characteristics of your tumor cells can help predict how your prostate cancer might respond to different treatments
2. Get a second opinion. Talk to your physician about other providers who can provide you with an additional opinion. If your doctor hesitates, replace him. You can find other specialists through local hospitals, clinics, cancer centers or the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
3. Weigh your treatment options. Between 20 percent and 40 percent of prostate cancers will not progress much from where they are now, or they’ll grow very slowly. For older men, those whose cancer hasn’t spread and with a low Gleason score, active surveillance instead of immediate treatment is the preferred therapy. But don’t think of active surveillance as doing nothing. For active surveillance to be done correctly, you’ll need a lot of follow-up.
If you’re not a good candidate for active surveillance, ask:
- What are my other treatment options?
- If I am treated, what can I expect in terms of side effects, survival, a cure?
- How much experience do you have with these treatments?
- How have other men like me fared with regard to the outcomes discussed?
4. Find a compatible doctor. You should like, trust and feel comfortable with your urologist. You’ll spend a lot of time with him or her.
5. Make healthy lifestyle changes. A healthy diet, regular exercise and weight management will help keep you healthy while you’re receiving treatment. Load up on a variety of vegetables, including cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage) and cooked tomatoes, which some studies suggest might reduce your risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer. Avoid processed meat. Opt for healthier protein sources containing omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon and other fish. Focus on good fats like the kind found in nuts and olive oil. Get calcium from low-fat sources, such as skim milk, spinach and whole-grain cereals. In addition to what you feed your body, shoot for vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes on days when you’re up to it. Don’t smoke.
6. Stay positive. New diagnostic tools and treatments are being discovered all the time. Work with your doctor to monitor your condition and determine the right treatment plan for you.