Fake news doesn’t only apply to politics . When it comes to prostate cancer, the internet is saturated with misinformation. In this article, we’ll help you separate fact from fiction by dispelling four common myths about prostate cancer. But first, let's start with some basic info.
Besides skin cancers, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men—with Black men in the United States at a greater risk of developing prostate cancer. Famous men get it, too. Actors Ben Stiller and Sidney Poitier have survived prostate cancer. So have sports legends Cal Ripken Jr. and Ken Griffey Sr.
Dr. Stacy Loeb, a Urologic Oncologist at NYU Langone Health Center in Manhattan and host of the Men’s Health Show on SiriusXM radio, dispels fake news surrounding prostate cancer on ZERO-The End of Prostate Cancer Podcast: Prostate Cancer Uncensored.
The death of Loeb’s grandfather led her into prostate cancer advocacy.
“My grandfather and I were very close, he raised me, and he passed away from prostate cancer while I was in medical school. So at that point, I decided to dedicate my career towards helping other men and their families who are going through this,” Loeb told ZERO President and CEO Jamie Bearse.
Loeb explains that the internet is a double-edged sword for patients. While there’s great information, including research findings, the content is most often not vetted. “There’s also a lot of false information circulating,” she says.
Loeb reveals the biggest prostate cancer myths contain fake news and outdated information. One example she cites is a video instructing men to inject herbs into their prostate as a treatment.“We have no research indicating this type of treatment would work, and in fact, injecting herbs into the prostate could even be potentially very dangerous,“ she says.
Loeb also warns about the dangers of consuming outdated information and points to the controversy swirling around prostate cancer screening guidelines. “At one time, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended against prostate cancer screening. This was later revised to recommend shared decision-making about the pros and cons of screening,” she says. According to Loeb, confusion arises when patients and their loved ones are making treatment decisions based on old data.
“You have to be very careful as a health consumer about looking at the date of the information and whether it’s a very recent piece of information because things are just constantly changing in medicine,” Loeb added.
She encourages men to talk through any concerns resulting from something they may have seen online. With this approach, doctors have the chance to confront common myths.
4 common prostate cancer myths
Let’s delve into four of the most popular myths surrounding prostate cancer.
1. No symptoms = no cancer
Ben Stiller was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014. At age 46, he had a baseline Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test absent any symptoms, family history, or any known high-risk factors.
“What I had — and I’m healthy today because of it — was a thoughtful internist who felt like I was around the age to start checking my PSA level, and discussed it with me.” Ben Stiller wrote for Medium.
The American Cancer Society advises against screening until age 50. If Stiller had waited, the growing tumor may not have been discovered. He credits the PSA test for saving his life.
“Prostate cancer is referred to as a ‘silent killer’ since oftentimes, there are no symptoms,” says Ilana Ostrin, a spokesperson for ZERO--The End of Prostate Cancer. “Generally, when men experience symptoms, they involve issues with urination: pain, dribbling, getting up multiple times at night, for example,” she says. Erectile Dysfunction can also be a symptom, but usually presents in later stages of the disease.
2. Prostate cancer is slow moving
“One of the myths we like to bust about prostate cancer is that it’s a slow-moving disease,” Ostrin says. “That’s something we hear a lot, but it’s not always true. The disease does have a high success rate if it’s caught early, but if caught late, it can be fast-moving and not curable,” she adds.
“We encourage knowing your risk factors and family history and presenting these facts in conversations with your doctors. If a doctor is hesitant to test because of your relatively young age, being able to push back with these points is crucial and could save your life,” she adds.
Ostrin explains one of ZERO’s goals is to transform men’s attitudes about talking openly about prostate cancer and screening. “We find women are often the ones to prompt men to get tested. Many women are taught at a young age the importance of annual mammograms and pap smears, and take it very seriously, and encourage the men in their lives to do the same with their respective health,” Ostrin says.
3. Only older men get prostate cancer
While age is a risk factor along with family history, race, and specific lifestyle factors, younger men also get prostate cancer.
“We know quite a few men in their 30’s who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, so screenings and annual exams are very important, especially if family history or risk factor is present,” Ostrin says.
This is especially crucial for Black men who are “twice as likely to die of prostate cancer compared to white men,” according to Ostrin. “ZERO strives to draw attention to racial disparities. A lot of the diseases black men are at higher risk for—such as diabetes, heart disease, or prostate cancer—correlate to lack of care or substandard care, not just genetics,” she says.
“My mother drilled into me and my brothers that prostate cancer was something we needed to be aware of, given our family history,” Ken Griffey Sr. shares with the public as part of the Bayer’s Men Who Speak Up program.
4. My sex life is ruined after a prostate cancer diagnosis
This is another myth that has been circulating. Ben Stiller underwent a full surgical removal of his prostate and is “extremely grateful” to be cancer free. He shared candidly with Howard Stern about his sex life after surgery.
“What many men fear most about prostate cancer is the sexual side effects associated with the disease. But men have options, both for regaining their sexual function—even if in a new or different way—and for accessing resources to help them, such as support groups or mentorship programs where they can discuss experiences with other men. But, if men believe this myth it causes them to be resistant and fearful of screening. It’s about more than virility—it’s about saving your life,” says Ostrin.
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