What to Expect after a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

September 30, 2020

Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer that impacts men, next to skin cancer; research shows that nearly 1 in every 9 men will be diagnosed in his lifetime. Fortunately, many cases are caught early and can be treated in various ways.

You may want to reach out for support:

A prostate cancer diagnosis – like that of any cancer – will impact you for the rest of your life, says Joseph Musumeci. A survivor himself, Joe now runs the “Fighting Men, Fighting Cancer” prostate cancer support group through Jefferson Health, which has some 60 regular attendees.

Joe encourages men to reach out for help – such as joining a support group – as early as they can. He notes his fortune in having a strong support system through his family, and he recognizes that many men don’t have the same opportunity, which is why he tries to fill in the gap.

“It’s incredibly important to talk to others,” said Joe. “We trust each other because we all know what the other person’s going through. Being knowledgeable is a lot better than being surprised.”

Treatment options can be overwhelming, so try to learn as much about them as you can: 

Dr. Dane Cohen, Radiation Oncologist at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township, explains that one of your first steps after diagnosis should be learning all of your treatment options and, most importantly, feeling comfortable with your decision.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions about tests, stages, timelines, or side effects,” said Dr. Cohen. “Your treatment route should be individualized and dependent on your personal goals.”

Of course, there are many clinical factors that contribute to treatment decisions. Nowadays, the majority of prostate cancers are first detected by elevated PSA levels on routine blood work. Further evaluation of prostate cancer – which can include biopsies, MRIs, CT scans, and bone scans – helps identify the stage and extent of the cancer, explains Dr. Cohen. 

For some elderly patients with low-risk cancer, simple observation is recommended. In these cases, the symptoms are treated, rather than the disease, says Dr. Cohen. In other low-risk cases, active surveillance may be an option, which calls for close monitoring and intervention once curative treatment is needed.

Common curative treatments for prostate cancer include:

• Surgery

• External Beam Radiation (4-9 weeks of low dose external treatments)

• SBRT (1 week of high dose external treatments)

• Brachytherapy (implanted radioactive seeds)

“If the cancer is metastatic, meaning it has spread to other areas of the body, systemic treatment, such as hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy is typically needed,” continued Dr. Cohen. “If the cancer is localized, we will use surgery and/or radiation.”

Dr. Dane Cohen, Radiation Oncologist at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township

No case is the same, so your length of treatment will likely differ from others:

Surgery and some forms of radiation therapy can be completed in as little as one day or as long as 9 weeks. How quickly one receives treatment depends on how aggressive the cancer is, but there’s often no immediate rush.

Each person – and each cancer – is completely different, Dr. Cohen emphasizes.

Follow-up after prostate cancer is a must:

Even after treatment is over and your cancer is “in remission,” there’s always a chance of it coming back. This is one of the first things they tell you, and one of the most difficult things to accept, says Joe.

PSA testing is advised every 6-12 months for the first 5 years and then annually after that, explains Dr. Cohen. 

Short- and long-term urinary, gastrointestinal, and sexual complications can occur after prostate cancer – many of which are manageable with medicine. Any concerns should be discussed with your doctor(s).

It’s important to find ways to cope:

All of this can result in anxiety – and, in some cases, depression – adds Joe. “The best way to cope is to live one day at a time. I’ve learned that you can’t dwell on what you can’t control.” He also suggests focusing on your physical and mental health as much as possible.

When asked what it means to him to be able to help others down this tough path, Joe said, “It’s a good feeling, and I’m not the only one who helps; we all want to be there for each other. For me, this group is the one good thing that has come from this disease. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

A reminder:

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer, be sure to ask any and all questions you have, and even seek a second opinion if needed.

If you’re in your 40s and 50s and are delaying your prostate cancer screening, the answer is simple: don’t! It’s better to catch the cancer sooner, rather than later.

To learn more about services offered at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township, click HERE.