Why this problem still exists is beyond me. So many times, whether on WebMD’s Men’s Health or Male Factor Infertility message boards or in my practice, I hear the same basic theme – a man has an obviously urologic problem, it is not resolving or appears to be serious, and yet his primary care doctor has not referred him to a urologist for evaluation and treatment as indicated.
Sometimes it may be for a nuisance problem – or it may be a warning sign of something potentially life threatening. So why would patients not be sent to a urologist at the first sign of something serious, potentially dangerous, and obviously urologic? Your guess is as good as mine.
I do know that many primary care doctors are under tremendous pressure by insurance companies to limit referrals to specialists. Other times it may simple ignorance by the primary doctor. Worse yet, it may be arrogance that the doctor thinks he or she knows everything urologic and so does not believe a urologist would add anything to the patient’s care.
So what are a few problems that absolutely must be seen by a urologist? There are many, but here are some examples of signs or symptoms that absolutely should be seen by a urologist – nonnegotiable!
1. Any aspect of male infertility. A small percent of male factor infertility is because of testicular cancer. This is often missed by primary care doctors and totally missed when referred to an IVF fertility doctor.
2. Blood in the urine. Hematuria, whether visible (gross hematuria) or only seen under the microscope (microscopic hematuria) is not normal and can be an early warning sign of a bladder or kidney cancer. The work-up is basic, including urine tests, an x-ray such as CT scan and a look inside the bladder with a fiberoptic scope (cystoscopy). Waiting to see if the blood will go away is not smart. Blood one time is enough to see a urologist.
3. An elevated PSA or change in PSA. The PSA remains one of the most sensitive indicators of prostate cancer of all tests in medicine. The problem is that too many doctors don’t understand what the PSA test is and probably even more and important, what the PSA test is not. Any elevation raises concerns so must be evaluated. Simply telling you to go away and let’s see how high it goes or how fast it climbs is not smart. And if the PSA starts to climb, even if still within “normal “levels, the change may suggest cancer. So any change of significance should be evaluated as well.
4. An abnormal prostate exam. Any abnormality – firmness, small nodules, or irregularities – may be from a prostate cancer and so must be seen by a urologist. Likewise, any changed from prior exams must be seen. This is why it is so important that all men over the age of 40 to 45 get a yearly exam, ideally by the same doctor. As with all potentially serious problems, if detected early the cure rate is high.
5. Any abnormality of the kidney found on x-ray. It must be assumed that these are kidney cancers until proven otherwise. Do not let anyone biopsy a kidney mass unless you have seen a urologist. Biopsies of a kidney mass can actually cause more harm, and often do not provide the information desired.
6. A testicular mass or persistent pain. Because of the rare chances of having an underlying testicular cancer, any masses, firmness or nodules of the testicle must be seen by a urologist. This also includes men with testicular pain that does not resolve within a week or two. If caught early, testicular cancer is one of the most curable cancers in humans.