Nov. 7, 2013 at 8:32 AM ET
About one in six American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. Not counting skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and the second most-common cause of cancer-related deaths, according to the US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
TODAY anchors Matt Lauer and Al Roker agreed to have prostate exams live on national television — and the procedures took around 35 seconds each.
Two tests are often used to screen for prostate cancer: a digital rectal exam or a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, which measures levels of PSA — a substance made by the prostate — in the blood.
Dr. David Samadi has been seeing Matt for about five years. "Your PSA has been quite steady, which I'm very happy about," the doctor told Matt. "Just for the numbers, it started around 0.7, and now it's around 0.9, so it hasn't moved, and that's what we pay attention to."
Dr. Samadi said Al's prostate was "a little enlarged, but it's not terrible."
That means there'll be follow-up visits.
"I don't feel any nodules or any abnormality, which is good," said Dr. Samadi. "So I'm going to monitor him once every six months, every year to see exactly whether the size of the prostate is going to change."
Dr. Samadi will continue to monitor Al's PSA in future exams.
"What's important also is to know whether there is any family history, anybody else that has prostate cancer, so you can put all this information (together)," he said. "And then you decide whether we're going to go for a biopsy or not."
For the African-American community, Al said, awareness of prostate health is "a big deal."
Dr. Nancy Snyderman added some alarming statistics: "I don't think most African-American men know that you're 60 percent more likely to get prostate cancer and many times the cancer itself is more aggressive," she said Thursday. "Something happened in American medicine in the '70s where we became very race-conscious and we took race out of medicine. That was a bad idea because race makes a difference with some cancers."
The rectal exam is "not comfortable," Al said. "But it's certainly, obviously do-able."
"It doesn't hurt at all. Is it the best 34 seconds of your life? Probably not," said Matt. "But if in 34 seconds a (doctor) can detect something that might save your life, what are we talking about?"
The live event is part of No-Shave November, TODAY's initiative to raise awareness for men's health issues.
"I think a lot of guys are also concerned about the embarrassment factor of it, so my advice would be find a doctor you're very comfortable with," said Matt. "That embarrassment factor is not going to be an issue."
About 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, and more than 28,000 die from it. Risk factors include age, family history and race. African-Americans, for example, are nearly 2.5 times as likely to die from the disease compared to Caucasians, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Symptoms may include difficulty urinating, frequent urination at night and weak or interrupted flow of urine.
An elevated PSA does not necessarily mean that a man has prostate cancer, said NBC News' Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Synderman. "And even if there is cancer detected, there are many treatment options and what's best for one person might not be best for another," she said.
Because most prostate cancers grow very slowly, some physicians believe the harms of screening outweigh the benefits. In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against the use of PSA screening for healthy men of all ages. However, physician-led groups such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Urological Association maintain that PSA screening should be considered in the context of a man’s life expectancy and other medical conditions.
"I feel a certain sense of relief if you will," Roker said on TODAY Wednesday. "It really is all about knowing."