It's the most common cancer among men in the U.S., and overall, prostate cancer is ranked the number three cancer in Alaska. While the disease primarily affects men over the age of 65, the Providence Cancer Center is offering free prostate cancer screenings to all Alaskans next week. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common symptoms of prostate cancer include:

•     Difficulty starting urination
•     Weak or interrupted flow of urine
•     Frequent urination, especially at night
•     Difficulty emptying the bladder completely
•     Pain or burning during urination
•     Blood in the urine or semen
•     Pain in the back, hips or pelvis that doesn't go away
•     Painful ejaculation

The CDC recommends men over the age of 55 get tested even if they aren't experiencing symptoms.

"Prostate cancer often doesn't present with symptoms while it's localized. It often presents when it's already spread beyond where we can cure it," explained Dr. John Halligan, a radiation oncologist at Providence Cancer Center.

Halligan says that African American men, Hispanics or those with family histories of the disease should get checked earlier, starting at age 40. 

"It's actually more common in African American men starting at an earlier age. And it is also more common in men who have family histories of prostate cancer," Halligan said.

Additionally, Halligan says men who have family histories of breast cancer in women are also at greater risk for getting prostate cancer.

According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, there tend to be fewer cases of prostate cancer in Alaska compared to the rest of the U.S. Halligan says there may be an ethnic component to the figure. 

"Caucasians and African American men in Alaska seem to have about the same rates as men in the Lower 48 of their same ethnicity, but Native Americans and people of Asian descent actually have lower rates of prostate cancer, and so that's the main thing that explains it," Halligan said.  

In all cases, Halligan says early detection is key. In 2016, Alaska's governor Bill Walker was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer without any apparent interruption to his official duties. Walker credited early detection for his positive outcome, and Halligan agrees. 

"The radiation techniques have also gotten better, so we're seeing less side effects," Halligan said. "And so the treatments like Gov. Walker received, we're able to have less of an impact on a person's life."

Halligan is the medical director at the Alaska CyberKnife Center. Halligan says the non-surgical tool has expedited treatment times significantly. 

"We can now do radiation treatments for prostate cancer in five days that we used to take eight or nine weeks to do," Halligan said. 

Anyone interested in a free prostate cancer screening can schedule an appointment with Providence Cancer Center by calling 907-212-4799.

Screenings will take place Monday through Wednesday, Sept. 16 to 18 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Providence Cancer Center in Anchorage. 

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