Prostate cancer is a very common form of male cancer. So whether someone is newly diagnosed or looking for information in helping a loved one understand and cope with this condition, here you’ll find all the information needed to understand prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most common form of male cancer in the United States. It affects the prostate gland, a small, walnut-shaped gland located under the bladder and in front of the rectum in men. This gland produces seminal fluid, which is responsible for nourishing and transporting sperm for reproduction.
- There are different types of prostate cancer. Some progress very slowly and require little treatment, while others progress very quickly and require very aggressive treatment.
- It is rare for prostate cancer to occur in men under the age of 40, and most cases are diagnosed in men over the age of 65.
- Each year there are more than 240,000 new cases of prostate cancer diagnosed and sadly nearly 34,000 men lose their battle with this cancer each year. If caught early, it is highly treatable and the overall outlook is good. Currently in the United States there are more than 2 million prostate cancer survivors.
Causes And Risk Factors
To date, the exact cause of prostate cancer is unknown. What is known is that the cancer develops when the genetic mutations in an abnormal cell’s DNA causes the abnormal cell to grow and multiply out of control. These cells don’t die, as healthy cells do. The continuous growth and multiplication causes a tumor to develop. Once a tumor develops, men often experience problems with urination and sexual abilities. This is what takes them to their doctor, though many men wait until it’s too late because they are simply too embarrassed to talk to their doctors about the problem.
There are a number of risk factors associated with prostate cancer:
- Age: This is the strongest risk factor for prostate cancer. It rarely develops before the age of 40, but after 50, the risk increases dramatically.
- African-American background: Prostate cancer is more prevalent in African-American men, than those from any other background. African-American men are more often diagnosed in more advanced stages and are more than two times more likely to die of prostate cancer than men of other backgrounds.
- Family history of prostate cancer: As with many types of cancer, prostate cancer is known to run in families. Men with a family history are more than twice as likely to develop prostate cancer themselves. One in 10 who develops prostate cancer has a family history of the cancer.
- Geographic location: One’s geographic location may increase the risk of prostate cancer. For example, more white men develop prostate cancer when living in New England and in the northwest region of the country than anywhere else.
- Unhealthy diet: Diets high in fat and calories are shown to increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.
- An inactive lifestyle: Those who get little to no exercise are more likely to develop prostate cancer.
In the early stages of prostate cancer, men may experience no symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, they may experience the following symptoms:
- Difficulty urinating
- Decreased force in the stream of urine
- Blood in urine
- Blood in semen
- Leg swelling
- Pelvic area discomfort
- Bone pain
Like many forms of cancers, the symptoms associated with prostate cancer are non-specific and can also be associated with a number of other conditions, such as benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), also known as an enlarged prostate.
A doctor will likely perform a physical exam as well as a blood test to measure the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). These two things together will tell the doctor if the problem is cancer or something else.
While recommendations differ, most experts recommend routine prostate cancer screenings for men over the age of 50. Of course any man who experiences any of the above symptoms should see their doctor immediately to discuss their concerns and be screened for prostate cancer.
The type of treatment that a man will receive will be determined by their doctor but will likely include surgery, radiation and hormone therapy. In some cases though, particularly those that aren’t advanced and aren’t progressing quickly, a doctor may take a “wait and see” approach.
- Surgery is used to remove the tumor, or in some cases to remove the whole prostate, depending upon how far the tumor has spread. In the past there was a concern about men being able to retain sexual function after the surgery but advances in surgical techniques have been able to preserve sexual function in some cases.
- Radiation therapy is sometimes used in addition to surgery or instead of surgery. The radiation is aimed directly at the tumor in order to destroy it. It can also be used in later stages to help reduce pain.
- Hormone therapy is a very effective form of treatment for prostate cancer. Hormones are administered that reduce the levels of androgens (male hormones) in the body. These hormones cause the tumors in the prostate to grow. The drawback to this therapy is that it can become less effective over time and men may experience some feminizing side effects such as decreased sexual drive and tender breast tissue.
- Chemotherapy is also used in treating prostate cancer. However, it is only used in specific situations in which there is a concern that the cancer may return, otherwise, it is not used in most cases.
The prognosis for prostate cancer is very good, provided that the cancer has not metastasized, meaning it has not spread to other areas of the body. When it is confined to the prostate and surrounding tissue the 5-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent. If the cancer spreads, the 5-year survival rate is not so good, only about 29 percent. However, only about 4 percent of cases are diagnosed in this extremely late stage.
With routine screening prostate cancer can be detected as early as possible. With treatment, prostate cancer survivors can move on with their lives in good health and never look back.