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Be Informed: Veterans and the Risk for Prostate Cancer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men in the United States, and it’s the most frequently diagnosed among Veterans.

Every year, 15,000 Veterans are diagnosed with prostate cancer, so it’s important to know what it is, what you can do about it and what resources are available to help.

What Is Prostate Cancer?

Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in almost any part of the body can become cancer cells and then spread to other areas. Prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate gland start to grow out of control. The prostate is a small part of the male reproductive system located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. 

Every year, 15,000 Veterans are diagnosed with prostate cancer, so it’s important to know what it is, what you can do about it and what resources are available to help.

Unfortunately, there aren’t usually any early warning signs for prostate cancer. The tumors often don’t cause pain, which means it can develop without you knowing it. That’s why understanding your risk factors and screening for it are so important.

What Are the Biggest Risk Factors?

All men are at risk for prostate cancer, but there are certain factors that can increase your risk:

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  • Age: The older you are, the greater your chance is for developing prostate cancer.
  • Race: African American men are more likely to get prostate cancer and are two times more likely to die from it.
  • Family history: You’ve got an increased risk for prostate cancer if more than one of your first-degree relatives have had prostate cancer, or if other members of your family have been diagnosed with pancreatic, breast or ovarian cancers.
  • Service specifics: Studies conducted through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have found that Veterans exposed to Agent Orange are at higher risk for prostate cancer and are more likely to have aggressive forms of the disease.

If you’re a part of one of these risk groups, you should talk to your health care provider about getting screened. According to VA, if you’re in a high-risk group, you should discuss screening at the age of 40. If you have no symptoms and aren’t included in one of the risk groups above, you can start at age 45. If you’re unsure of your risk level, it’s best to talk to your health care provider.

What Is the Screening Process?

Home caregiver helping a senior man standing upThe PSA test is the leading method of screening for prostate cancer, and it’s usually the first step. PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen, which is a protein produced by the prostate. During a PSA test, a small amount of blood is drawn from your arm to measure your PSA level. When there’s a problem with the prostate, more PSA is released. However, a higher level of PSA doesn’t always mean prostate cancer. Your doctor will consider several factors when evaluating your results.

Another common test is the DRE, or a digital rectal exam, which is conducted by a urologist to feel the prostate. If either of these tests suggests an abnormality, other tests can be done to confirm a diagnosis. The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) describes various tests and what they entail.

It’s important to note that there’s some controversy about the risks and benefits associated with prostate cancer screening. When to start and what tests to do should be an individualized decision made between you and your health care provider.

What Treatments Are Available?

Doctors have a wide range of tools available to treat prostate cancer. Your doctors will work with you to design a treatment plan that gives you the best care possible. Learn more about the different treatments available, including surgery, hormone therapy, radiation and more.

What Resources Are Available to Help?

The PCF and VA are partnering up to provide you and thousands of Veterans with the care you deserve. The goal of the partnership is to prevent, screen and promote research to speed the development of treatments and cures for prostate cancer among Veterans. Since the partnership began in 2016, several PCF-VA Centers for Excellence around the country are serving Veterans with cutting-edge treatments and cures.

VA is aware of the high rates of prostate cancer among Veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during service. According to VA, Veterans do not have to prove a connection between their prostate cancer and service to be eligible to receive VA health care and disability compensation. To learn more about what benefits you may qualify for, check out VA’s page on Prostate Cancer and Agent Orange.

Use your knowledge about your risk level, the screening process and the resources ready to help you and other Veterans to get ahead of prostate cancer.

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