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Ken Griffey Sr. tells his cancer story


September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and the Prostate Cancer Research Institute (PCRI) will host one of the largest meetings for patients, where leading prostate cancer physicians and specialists share insights on the latest research and treatment.

Baseball legend and prostate survivor Ken Griffey Sr. will be among those speaking at the PCRI conference in Los Angeles at the LAX Marriott hotel. The conference takes place Sept. 9-11, and Griffey tells his story Sept. 10 from 11 to 11:45 a.m.

Griffey has lost four uncles to the disease. Diagnosed in 2006, he is well aware of the statistics for Black men—1 in 6 African American men vs. 1 in 8 Caucasians are diagnosed. Black men are also nearly 2.4 times as likely to die from the disease, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Although scientists do not yet understand why prostate cancer incidence and death rates are higher among African-American men, it is widely believed that it is a combination of genetic differences, lifestyle, nutritional habits and medical care which could all play a role in the statistics.

Griffey and his son, Ken Griffey Jr., (who was recently inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame) teamed up with Bayer as spokesmen for the Men Who Speak Up program. While Ken Sr.’s prostate cancer was diagnosed and treated early, some men aren’t as fortunate. There are times when prostate cancer advances and becomes life threatening. That’s why the Griffeys are taking action by sharing their story and encouraging men with advanced prostate cancer to speak up about their symptoms and work with their healthcare professionals to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

On Sept. 9, the NFL Players Association of Los Angeles will host a Champions for the Cause happy hour from 4-6 p.m. in Champions Bar (in the lobby) of the Los Angeles Airport Marriott, 5855 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles. The networking opportunity follows the workshops, and gives attendees a chance to connect with fellow participants and professional NFL players before the busy day of sessions on Saturday. The first 50 people will receive a complimentary drink. And don’t forget to show your support and wear blue.

In most cases, prostate cancer symptoms are not apparent in the early stages of the disease. The symptoms of prostate cancer may be different for each man and any one of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions. As a result, routine screenings in the form of digital rectal exams (DRE) and prostate specific androgen (PSA) tests are important.

The American Cancer Society recommends that men make an informed decision with their doctor about whether to be tested for prostate cancer, beginning at age 50. Men with one or more risk factors for prostate cancer should consult with their physician about whether to start routine screening earlier.

Risk factors

There are several major factors that influence risk, and some of them unfortunately cannot be changed.

Age. The older you are, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Although only 1 in 10,000 men under age 40 will be diagnosed, the rate shoots up to 1 in 38 for ages 40 to 59, and 1 in 14 for ages 60 to 69.

In fact, more than 65 percent of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65. The average age at diagnosis of prostate cancer in the United States is 69 years. After that age, the chance of developing prostate cancer becomes more common than any other cancer in men or women.

Family history/genetics. A man with a father or brother who developed prostate cancer is twice as likely to develop the disease. This risk is further increased if the cancer was diagnosed in family members at a younger age (less than 55 years of age) or if it affected three or more family members.

Where you live. For men in the U.S., the risk of developing prostate cancer is 17 percent. For men who, for example live in rural China, it’s 2 percent. However, when Chinese men move to the western culture, their risk increases substantially.

Men who live in cities north of 40 degrees latitude (north of Philadelphia, Pa., Columbus, Ohio, and Provo, Utah, for instance) have the highest risk for dying from prostate cancer of any men in the United States. This effect appears to be mediated by inadequate sunlight during three months of the year, which reduces vitamin D levels.

More myths and non-risks

Sexual activity—High levels of sexual activity or frequent ejaculation have been rumored to increase prostate cancer risk. This is untrue. In fact, studies show that men who report more frequent ejaculations may have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer.

Having a vasectomy was originally thought to increase a man’s risk, but this has since been disproven.

Medication—Several recent studies have shown a link between aspirin intake and a reduced risk of prostate cancer by 10-15 percent. This may result from different screening practices, through a reduction of inflammation, or other unknown factors.

The class of drugs called the statins—known to lower cholesterol—has also recently been linked to a reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer in some studies.

Alcohol—There is no link between alcohol and prostate cancer risk.

Vitamin E—Recent studies have not shown a benefit to the consumption of Vitamin E or selenium (in the formulations studied) in the prevention of prostate cancer.

Urinary symptoms of prostate cancer

Because of the proximity of the prostate gland in relation to the bladder and urethra, prostate cancer may be accompanied by a variety of urinary symptoms. Depending on the size and location, a tumor may press on and constrict the urethra, inhibiting the flow of urine. Some prostate cancer signs related to urination include:

Burning or pain during urination

Difficulty urinating, or trouble starting and stopping while urinating

More frequent urges to urinate at night

Loss of bladder control

Decreased flow or velocity of urine stream

Blood in urine (hematuria)

Other prostate cancer signs and symptoms

Prostate cancer may spread (metastasize) to nearby tissues or bones. If the cancer spreads to the spine, it may press on the spinal nerves. Other prostate cancer symptoms include:

Blood in semen

Difficulty getting an erection (erectile dysfunction)

Painful ejaculation

Swelling in legs or pelvic area

Numbness or pain in the hips, legs or feet

Bone pain that doesn’t go away, or leads to fractures