Health: Blue for Life

 

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

 

For almost 10 years, Joe Rantisi, 69, and his doctor watched his prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels fluctuate, however, biopsies revealed no prostate cancer.

“I waited for the biopsies to reveal it, and in 2006, they finally found it and my doctor suggested waiting six months and monitoring my PSA levels,” Rantisi said. “I wanted my prostate out immediately. I discussed with my family, and I had it removed on April 28, 2006.”

Rantisi, who serves on the Arkansas Prostate Foundation Board of Directors, said he knew he had cancer and didn’t want to wait any longer to take action. Since then, he’s given his daughter away at her wedding and spent time with his 4-year-old grandson.

“For many years, it appeared that prostate cancer did not receive the same kind of awareness as other diseases,” said Patrick Presley, director of development and media relations at the Arkansas Prostate Foundation. “This is quite odd when you think about the numbers alone: 1 in 7 men overall and 1 in 4 in the African American community develop prostate cancer in their lifetimes. However, over the last two to three years, you can see and feel the tide turning. September is the perfect month for any man reading this article to take action and for women who are concerned about men in their lives to motivate them to take action and see their doctors for a PSA screening. A few minutes at the doctor’s office can truly save a life, and we see this on a daily basis.”

Diet and nutrition play an important role in this disease, and Arkansas in particular has one of the higher mortality rates of prostate cancer in the United States.

Men should know their PSA levels just as they should know their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is a benchmark from which a man and his doctor can monitor on a yearly basis, to see if they’re at increased risk.

“It is only natural for a man’s PSA score to increase with age; however, your doctor will know if this increase is cause for alarm,” Presley said. “If it increases or there are suspicious results, a doctor will then recommend a biopsy. We also now know that a healthful diet and nutrition are vital as well as daily exercise to lower the risks of this disease.”

Rantisi urges the men he knows to get their PSA levels checked. He said the advances in technology and medical care are changing.

“It scares guys,” Rantisi said. “Men don’t want to deal with something scary … we can deal with the issues, but if I die, it’s not fair for my family.”

Prostate cancer is an asymptomatic disease, which means men may have prostate cancer with no early signs.

“Now, in some cases there are precursors, such as urgent or frequent needs to urinate, especially at night, or there may be blood in the urine. These should always be addressed immediately with a physician,” Presley said. “What is important to know when speaking about this disease being an asymptomatic disease is that some of the symptoms I described can be attributed to an enlarged prostate. An enlarged prostate is not prostate cancer. Only a doctor can make the determination between an enlarged prostate, which is extremely common and part of the aging process, or something more serious, such as prostate cancer.”

There are several options for treatment:

  • — waiting and active surveillance
  • — surgery to remove the prostate, known as a radical prostatectomy—
  • radiation therapy
  • cryotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • chemotherapy

Women play a vital role in the awareness of prostate cancer. First, by asking the men in their lives — whether it be a husband, father, brother, uncle or friend — “Do you know your PSA level?” A simple question like this keeps this disease at the forefront of a man’s mind.

“Also, asking if a man has had a yearly physical can be effective,” Presley said. “For example, we have many cases where women called doctors and set up exams for their husbands or loved ones. We see this numerous times where women take the lead to set up exams, and, in some cases, it has literally had lifesaving effects.”

Rantisi agrees that women should encourage the men in their lives to get checked.

“Men need to stop ‘being men’ and start ‘being human beings’ and think about how it’s going to affect the people they leave behind,” Rantisi said, referring to men who are not willing to get checkups.

The Arkansas Prostate Foundation was established in 1999 by a group of men who had been diagnosed with the disease, and at that time, had no one and no organization to turn to for answers or support. The mission of the foundation is simple: a belief that no man should die from prostate cancer.

“Some men, for example, don’t like to see a doctor much less discuss a possible life-threatening disease like prostate cancer. We have a saying around the office, ‘No man should die from embarrassment,’” Presley said. “I cannot tell you how effective that is as we encourage men to take time for a yearly screening, it truly can save lives.”

Presley said the organization goes a step further to help men to feel more at ease with having their screenings.

“We also are very proud of the peer-to-peer component of our organization; this is where we connect newly diagnosed men with men who have battled this disease. They provide a wealth of inspiration to them,” he said. “This one-on-one connection has proven incredibly effective for dealing with this disease, which can be extremely difficult for men and their families.”

There are weekly meetings across Arkansas as well as free screenings in every part of the state.

“No town is too small for us to do a screening test,” Presley continued. “We recognize National Prostate Cancer Awareness month every September with our Blue Ribbon Campaign.”

Blue is the designated color for prostate cancer awareness as pink is for breast cancer awareness in October. Every high school and college football team in the state wears the blue ribbon decal on its helmets in September to recognize Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and last year marked the first time the University of Arkansas, Razorbacks joined. Presley said this has been an extremely effective way to reach men at the start of football season.

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