Taking Control of Prostate Health: Awareness Month Insights

In the United States, over 3 million men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer are still alive today, thanks in part to the health, fundraising, and educational activities of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. 

What and When is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month?

In 1989, Dr. David E. Crawford reached out to several organizations and individuals to form the Prostate  Cancer Education Council with the aim of spreading awareness about the disease in order to increase early detection rates. That same year, the Council launched Prostate Cancer Awareness Week in the third week of September. 

Ten years later, the Urology Care Foundation designated the entire month of September Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and in 2015 President Obama proclaimed National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

 Throughout the month, organizations across the country participate in charitable activities, educational events, and health screenings in order to:

  • Educate men and their loved ones about the risks, signs, and symptoms of prostate cancer
  • Provide life-saving prostate health screenings to increase early detection rates
  • Offer fundraising activities to help organizations that support prostate cancer patients and families
  • Campaign for research and public policies that help better manage and treat the condition

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month begins September 1st, and a light blue ribbon is worn to represent support. The Prostate Cancer Foundation provides activity ideas if you’d like to get involved.

What is Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is a condition in which normal prostate cells become abnormal, and grow out of control. It affects the prostate gland, which is a gland located in the male groin that’s similar in size to a golf ball. 

When healthy, the prostate gland uses hormones called ‘androgens’ (such as testosterone) to regulate normal reproduction and male sexual characteristics. 

However, when cancer cells reproduce in the prostate gland, they use these androgens as their energy source in order to grow out of control and stop the healthy prostate cells from working properly. 

Each year approximately 248,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and those 55 and older are at increased risk. For non-Hispanic African American men and those with a family history of the disease, the risk may increase beginning as early as 40 years old.

It’s recommended to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about yearly prostate health screenings once you reach the age of increased risk. This helps cut down on the chances of prostate cancer spreading, or metastasizing, to the tissues and organs surrounding the prostate gland and increases your chances of successful treatment.

What Causes Prostate Cancer?

The exact cause of prostate cancer is still unknown. Risk factors for the condition include:

Inherited Gene Mutations

Research indicates that certain inherited gene mutations can change prostate cells from normal-functioning to cancerous. These are mutations that are handed down from family members. For example, ‘tumor suppressor genes’ help repair DNA mutations, regulate cell growth, and properly trigger cell death. Likewise, genes known as ‘oncogenes’ ensure healthy cell division, growth, and lifecycles. It’s estimated that about 10% of prostate cancer is due to mutations in these tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes. This means that these genes’ normal healthy repair and regulation functions stop working, making it easier for prostate cancer cells to thrive.  

Acquired Gene Mutations

Acquired gene mutations are another underlying cause of prostate cancer. These are gene mutations that happen during men’s lifetimes, and they can lead to DNA cell replication errors that cause out-of-control growth of cancer cells. While it’s not always known why acquired gene mutations occur, they have been linked to certain lifestyle factors such as poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Naturally high levels of androgens may be another risk factor, and research is ongoing to determine the exact reasons these gene mutations occur.

Prostate Cancer and Incontinence

Does prostate cancer cause incontinence?

Prostate cancer may increase your risk of developing incontinence. There are actually a few reasons why prostate cancer and incontinence may occur:

  • An enlarged prostate gland: This can occur due to tumor growth or inflammation. The gland’s enlarged size puts pressure on the urethra. 
  • Post-surgical incontinence: Prostate surgery may weaken the muscles that control urine flow.  

When there’s pressure on the urethra, it narrows and this can lead to stress incontinence.  This happens when you cough, sneeze, or exert yourself physically.  The other type of incontinence is known as urge incontinence, and it’s an involuntary contraction of the bladder muscles. Both of these are types of urinary incontinence.

Prostate cancer incontinence can also occur due to radiotherapy therapy treatment or surgery that causes an injury or weakness in the rectal muscle layer.  This is known as fecal incontinence.

Advanced prostate cancer that spreads to the spine and forms tumors that damage the nerves controlling the bowels and bladder is a much less common cause of urinary and fecal incontinence.  

To find out if you might be experiencing prostate cancer incontinence, take our Urinary Incontinence Self-Assessment and Fecal Incontinence Self-Assessment.

How to Treat Prostate Cancer Incontinence

Incontinence related to prostate cancer may last just a few days or weeks, or it might be ongoing for several months or longer. Here are several treatment options available to help you better manage your symptoms, heal after treatment, and regain more control over your life.

  • Behavioral: Changing certain lifestyle habits can help you better manage prostate cancer incontinence. This would include keeping a regular urination schedule and monitoring when and how often you drink liquids. Certain dietary modifications can be helpful as well, especially for fecal (bowel) incontinence.
  • Medical: Urethral sling implants can be surgically inserted around the urethra and connected to the urinary wall to help with urine retention, especially for those dealing with stress incontinence. Hemorrhoid banding is used to block off blood supply to internal or sometimes external hemorrhoids that form as a consequence of fecal (bowel) incontinence. Artificial urinary sphincter pumps can be implanted under your stomach muscles to allow you to control when you release your urine manually. In addition, Botox® Treatment may be used for reducing overstimulation of the nerves connected to your bladder.
  • Exercises: Pelvic floor exercises like Kegels help strengthen your muscles so you gain control of your bladder and bowel.  Working with a physical therapist who utilizes biofeedback helps pinpoint the areas that need work so a personalized training plan can be set up for you.
  • Medications: There are several medications your doctor can prescribe to help with your symptoms, depending on the underlying cause of your incontinence. They include alpha-blockers, mirabegron, anticholinergics, Metamucil, and medications to help alleviate diarrhea. These typically will be in the form of a pill, liquid, or powder supplement, or sometimes a patch or cream.
  • Sacral Nerve Stimulation: This is a type of therapy that delivers tiny electrical impulses in order to regulate sacral nerve activity, which helps the nerves interpret brain signals properly in order to control bladder and bowel functioning. To send these electrical impulses, a device is implanted under the skin in the pelvic region above the buttocks. The types of sacral nerve stimulation (SNS) devices include:
    • InterStim: The InterStim II doesn’t need recharging and should be replaced every 5 years, while the InterStim Micro device needs to be recharged once a week for 20 minutes, and replaced every 15 years.
    • Axonics: This is the wireless version of an SNS therapy device. It requires recharging once a month for about an hour and is replaced every 15 years. 

Contact us today at the Incontinence Institute to connect with a doctor in the network who will work with you to diagnose and treat your prostate cancer-related incontinence symptoms.