Perhaps no other cancer is more a casualty of the “doctor knows best” fallacy than prostate cancer.
Over 1.2 million men a year are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the United States. If you are a man over the age of 40, your doctor should be talking to you about prostate cancer. That discussion should include a decision by you about whether you want to be tested on a regular basis. Over the years, different medical organizations have changed their recommendations about when, and even if, doctors should screen men for prostate cancer. They have also changed their positions about when a man should be referred to a urologist for additional testing. Those recommendations are based on statistics about how long it takes cancer to grow and how often intervention can make a difference. Doctors often use terms such as “overtreatment” and “overdiagnosis” to justify ignoring a man’s signs and symptoms of prostate cancer. They rationalize that because most men with prostate cancer won’t die from it, there is no point treating it, therefore there is no point diagnosing it.
The reality is that guidelines and statistics don’t mean a thing if you’re the one dying from prostate cancer because your doctor failed to diagnose it or treat it in time. There is no such thing as “overdiagnosing” or “overtreating” the cancer that is growing in your body.
In order to figure out if you might have prostate cancer, doctors test the levels of PSA in your blood. High PSA levels don’t automatically mean you have cancer, but it does tell you something abnormal is going on in your prostate. Many doctors dismiss elevated PSA levels as simply an infection or an enlarged prostate. They take a “wait and see” approach that can have devastating consequences if they’re wrong.
Prostate cancer is very treatable if it is found early. Even very aggressive prostate cancer can be stopped from spreading if it is timely recognized and treated.
Here is where doctors can go wrong when it comes to prostate cancer:
- Not talking to you about the risk of prostate cancer if you’re over 40 years old;
- Not letting you make the decision about whether you want to be screened for prostate cancer;
- Failing to tell you that an elevated PSA may indicate prostate cancer;
- Failing to recognize that even a slight increase in your PSA levels can be an indication of cancer;
- Failing to refer you to a urologist for additional workup of your elevated PSA;
- Putting you on an antibiotic because of an elevated PSA level because they simply assume it is an infection.
If you have had an elevated PSA you should follow up with your doctor regularly. Ask questions and insist on getting answers. Prostate cancer is not just something older men get. Younger men can get it, and if they do, it needs to be diagnosed early and treated appropriately.
If you think there may have been a delay in diagnosing your cancer, please give G. Eric Nielson & Associates a call and let’s talk about how we can help.