~ Focus on Men's Health

The Saturday Evening Post, 09-06-05

Whether leading his team on the gridiron or offering pro football commentary on ESPN, Joe Theismann's play-calling has always commanded respect. Today, the legendary "number 7" is lending his voice and support to educating men about enlarged prostate (EP), a condition that affects more than 50 percent of American men over 50 years of age and 80 percent of men over age 80, according to the American Urological Association.

"Over the last three years, I found myself getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom," Theismann told the Post. "After a while, I began to accept that going to the bathroom so frequently was simply part of aging after hitting 50."

The nightly ritual, however, exacted a physical toll on the busy businessman and sportscaster, who suspected after investigation that his symptoms were similar to those of EP.

"During a routine physical, I asked my doctor about the signs indicating an enlarged prostate," recalls Theismann. "He explained the symptoms, which basically matched what I was experiencing. During my checkup, he found that I did indeed have an enlarged prostate."

Theismann's physician suggested medication, and over time, the symptoms eased.

"Now, I sleep well throughout the night," Theismann reports. "I don't go to the bathroom as often as I did before. I used to go to the bathroom at 2:30 and 4:30 before finally getting up for good at 6:00 a.m. My sleep was interrupted. Now, I feel refreshed throughout the day. And when I plan a trip, I don't have to figure out rest stops. I resumed my normal life."

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland of the male reproductive system that is located beneath the bladder and in front of the rectum. The urethra, which transports urine and sperm out of the body, passes through the prostate to the bladder neck. Surrounded by a capsule of A fibrous tissue that is called the prostate capsule, the gland can begin to enlarge in two wayscells multiply around the urethra, squeezing it; or cells grow into the urethra and bladder outlet area, a condition that typically requires surgery. As cells proliferate, the prostate gets bigger, pressing on the urethra and causing the flow of urine to become slower and less forceful.

Like most men, Theismann was initially unfamiliar with the symptoms of EP or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). For a variety of reasons, prostate health is not well publicized. Fear and embarrassment about prostate problems often hinder men from seeking diagnosis and treatment.

To counter this trend, Theismann is spearheading a national educational campaign to promote greater awareness of BPH among men over 50. In mild cases, BPH may not immediately require treatment. In other cases, medications, minimally invasive procedures, or surgical treatments may be suggested.

"Many men are afraid that if they have an enlarged prostate, they have prostate cancer, so they hesitate seeking help," Theismann stresses. "Instead of going to the doctor, finding out what's wrong, and seeing if it can be treated, a male's typical first reaction is, 'If I avoid it, maybe it will go away.' It's a male thing. We are trying to enlighten men that enlargement of the prostate can be treated."

Part of a thorough prostate exam includes both a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test and a digital rectal exam (DRE)-a vital part of a man's annual physical, especially after age 50. The DRE allows physicians to determine whether the prostate is actually enlarged, as well as to feel for lumps or areas of abnormal texture that can be suspicious for prostate cancer, The procedure may produce rninimal discomfort but allows for tremendous peace of mind.

Theismann believes part of a male's hesitation to seek help for prostate problems stems in part from a reluctance to admit to aging.

"Many men are afraid to acknowledge that they are getting older," Theismann says. "I look at it this way: I don't feel 55. I don't feel old and I don't want to look old, but that doesn't mean that my body won't continue to age. While I cannot stop the aging process, I can do something about it by taking care of myself.

"I also appeal to men's spouses. If you care about the significant man in your life, encourage him to get a physical. Human nature is such that if I don't know it's there, it's not a problem and I won't have to deal with it.

"Don't take that approach! Get an examination. Take the time to take care of yourself."

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