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8 Myths About Prostate Cancer All Men Should Know

One out of seven U.S. men reading this will be diagnosed. Learn the facts about prostate health.

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Myth: Only older men get prostate cancer

It’s true that your risk of prostate cancer increases as you get older; it’s also true most men are diagnosed after 65 years old. But this year, an estimated 181,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed; about 40 percent of those will occur at an earlier age, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s rare to develop it before age 40, but once you hit about 50, your chance of rises pretty quickly. African-American men are also at a higher risk than other races; living here ups your chances as well—for reasons unknown, prostate cancer is most common in North America. These are 5 signs of prostate cancer men should never ignore.

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Myth: No prostate cancer symptoms means no cancer

Not necessarily when it comes to your prostate, a small, walnut-shaped gland whose job is to produce fluid that nourishes and chauffeurs sperm. No symptoms may just mean the cancer is in its early stages. Signs of prostate cancer usually arise after it progresses, including problems urinating, such as a slow or weak flow, blood in the urine, pain in the pelvic area, or trouble getting an erection. Of course, these symptoms may also be caused by a list of other things that does not include cancer. See your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms to determine the cause.

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Myth: No one in my family has prostate cancer, so I’m good

Your genes may play a role in your risk: If your father has prostate cancer, you’re twice as likely to develop it; your brother, three times as likely. Having two or more close family members with prostate cancers bumps your risk up more than four times, according to the National Cancer Institute. But the fact remains prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men, other than skin cancer; and most cases occur in men without a family history of it. Still, if the disease runs in your family, you may want to discuss possible screening tests with your doctor. Here’s what your prostate secretly wants to tell you about its health.

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Myth: A PSA test tests for prostate cancer

Nope. A PSA measures your blood levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein produced by cells in your prostate gland. This test, along with digital rectal exams (where your doc has to, well, feel around for any enlargements, lumps or hard spots on your prostate) may help identify cancer at its earliest stages. Must read: How important is the PSA test, really?

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Myth: A high PSA score means prostate cancer

Some prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood is normal. High levels, however, or inflammation in your prostate, the gland may be enlarged, or it could possibly (but not definitely) indicate cancer.  But there’s a lot of debate about the risk and benefits of PSA screening for prostate cancer, the test is not fool-proof and different experts have different recommendations on when and if to get it. Talk to your doctor to determine what’s best for you.

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Myth: Vasectomies cause prostate cancer

This one isn’t proven either way. Some studies suggest a link between men who have gotten a vasectomy (a minor surgery to make them infertile) and a slightly increased risk for prostate cancer. Other studies have shown no such thing. According to the American Urological Association, you need not worry in terms of prostate cancer risk if you opt for a vasectomy. Another rumor: A lot of sex and frequent ejaculations increase prostate cancer risk (also not true). These 10 prostate cancer truths might surprise you.

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Myth: Prostate cancer isn’t that serious

Even though the five-year survival rate is super high at almost 100 percent, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, after lung cancer. It’s usually a slow-growing cancer that at least at first, stays confined to the gland. For men diagnosed with very early-stage prostate cancer, treatment may not be necessary right away, or at all, depending on the type of cancer. Instead, doctors may suggest just monitoring it over several years. Other types of prostate cancer, however, are more aggressive, spread quickly and could be deadly. The most recent statistics show about one in 39 men will die from prostate cancer.

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Myth: Prostate cancer treatment always leaves you impotent

Erections are controlled by two tiny bundles of nerves that run on either side of the prostate; certain treatments for cancer (such as radiation or surgery) can affect those nerves. Whether or not you regain your abilities (and to what extent) depends on a bunch of different factors, such your age, circumstances of your treatment, and if you had normal erections beforehand. To add potential insult to injury, incontinence (the kind when you leak after coughing and laughing) can also sometimes follow cancer treatment. Talk to your doctor about the details of your condition, including your treatment options and their possible side effects. The good news: lots of different therapies are available to help with these less-than-ideal issues. Next up, learn the 13 signs of cancer men are likely to ignore.