If you’re a man past the age of sixty, it’s almost inevitable that you will need to deal with prostate issues. These can range from an enlarged prostate to prostate cancer, but one does not necessarily lead to the other. With that in mind, it is important for senior men and caregivers to know the difference and understand the stages, treatments, and emotional impact of prostate cancer.
An enlarged prostate, also known as BPH, is caused by an overgrowth of tissue within the prostate. This tissue is cancer free, but can cause difficulty with urination. Treatment for an aging adult with BPH ranges from medication to surgery, depending on how long the symptoms continue before treatment begins. Like most illnesses, early detection and treatment is the best option.
Stages of Senior Prostate Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer has four stages. These stages are determined in large part by the size and spread of the cancer.
- T Categories – The T category has four levels: T1, T2, T3, T4. These are determined by a clinical exam and not surgery. A T1 category means that the doctor cannot feel or see the tumor. At T2, the doctor can feel the cancer during an exam. At T3, the cancer has moved beyond the prostate and into the seminal vesicles, and finally, the T4 category suggests that the cancer has begun growing into other tissues outside of the prostate.
- N Categories – The N categories determine whether or not the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes. There are four N categories with N1 being the most severe.
- M Categories – The M categories determine whether or not the cancer has spread past the lymph nodes and into the bones or other organs such as the brain or lungs. There are five M categories.
The Emotional Side of Prostate Cancer
For some men, it can be difficult to share their feelings and concerns when it comes to dealing with prostate cancer. In fact, in a survey conducted by the Association of Oncology Social Work, about 50% of men with prostate cancer reported that they kept their diagnosis and their treatments secret, and 59% are concerned about being a burden to their families.
It is important as a caregiver that you give the senior male in your life an opportunity to talk — if they would like to — about their fears and concerns about their cancer. Not everyone will want to talk about it, but knowing that they can in a nonjudgmental way can make a big difference.
One issue many senior men have is that they feel their doctors are not as concerned with the level of discomfort that will be experienced when selecting treatments as they are. As a caregiver, you can play a role in the doctor / patient dynamic by attending doctor visits and, if needed, voicing concerns your loved one might feel too uncomfortable mentioning.
Finally, a vast majority of prostate cancer patients, 78% wish that those around them understood better what they are experiencing and how the treatments affect them.
Quick Tips for Prostate Cancer Caregivers
As a family or in-home caregiver, there are steps you can take to help your loved one manage their prostate cancer. The American Prostate Cancer Foundation recommends a number of tips and coping strategies for family members of those afflicted. Some of these include:
- Learn what you can about prostate cancer and its treatments
- Be sure to keep the lines of communication open
- Be an active participant in the treatment plan
- Keep yourself healthy
- Consider joining a support group
With early detection, prostate cancer has a good survival rate, and keeping the lines of communication open – before diagnosis and after – can keep the senior male in your life healthier and happier.