What Are the Warning Signs of Prostate Cancer?

Christen NicholsLast Updated Sep 15, 2020 12:14:18 PM ET
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Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in men. The earlier the detection of prostate cancer, the better the patient’s chance of survival is. Although screenings for prostate cancer are one tool for early detection, knowing the warning signs of prostate cancer also helps with obtaining a diagnosis.

Learn the warning signs for prostate cancer — along with their typical timeline — to better assess risk levels and treatment options.

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Prostate Cancer’s Lack of Early Warning Signs

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Unfortunately, there usually aren’t any "early" warning signs of prostate cancer. By the time a patient starts to experience prostate cancer-related symptoms, the cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage.

The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland located between the bladder and the penis. Cancer causes the prostate to expand in size gradually. At the initial onset of prostate cancer, there’s nothing nearby that the growing prostate can press on to cause pain.

Because prostate cancer often has no early warning signs, it’s essential for men to receive regular prostate cancer screenings. Men who are at a high risk for developing prostate cancer should begin screenings between the ages of 40 and 45.

If you have a first-degree relative ― a relative with whom you share 50% of your genetic makeup, such as a brother or father ― who’s had prostate cancer or are African American, you should start screenings at age 45. However, if you have multiple first-degree relatives with prostate cancer, you should begin having prostate cancer screenings at age 40.

Advanced Warning Signs of Prostate Cancer

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The advanced warning signs of prostate cancer occur once the prostate enlarges in size and starts to press against the bladder. Most types of prostate cancer are slow-growing, but there are some forms that are more aggressive. These aggressive cancers will yield warning signs sooner than slower-growing cancers.

Some of the most common advanced warning signs of prostate cancer include problems urinating, more frequent urination, blood in urine or ejaculate, unexplained pain in the back or hips, or numbness of the lower body. If you feel like you can’t start your flow of urine or if your urine stream seems weaker than usual, this may also be a sign of prostate cancer.

As your prostate grows, it presses against your bladder and causes you to feel the need to urinate more frequently. This symptom is especially noticeable at night. This is caused by irritation to the bladder and urethra from your expanding prostate. Once prostate cancer spreads, it can cause discomfort in other parts of your body. If your prostate gland grows large enough, it can start to press on your spinal cord. This causes the lower half of your body to feel numb.

If you experience any of these warning signs, see a doctor as soon as possible. There are numerous other medical conditions that can cause these symptoms, such as noncancerous tumors, but it’s important to get an examination to determine the underlying cause of your discomfort.

Screening Options for Early Prostate Cancer Detection

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Having prostate cancer screening done is just as important as knowing the common warning signs of prostate cancer for an early diagnosis. However, there are multiple types of prostate cancer screenings available. The best alternative depends on your specific medical history.

A digital rectal exam is one of the more widely used prostate cancer screening methods. Your physician inserts a gloved finger into your rectum and feels your prostate gland. This screening detects hard portions of the prostate that might indicate cancer. While not the most comfortable screening, a digital rectal exam is simple and straightforward.

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a more intensive form of prostate screening. This is a blood test that shows the levels of a protein in your blood that your prostate releases. Higher-than-normal PSA levels can indicate prostate cancer. However, some forms of prostate cancer don’t cause elevated PSA levels, and many noncancerous conditions can cause higher-than-normal PSA levels. This has led to controversy over the use of the PSA test for prostate screening.

Critics argue that the PSA test leads to the overtreating of cancers that are better off being closely monitored. Some forms of prostate cancer are so slow-growing that they may not ever cause problems for the patient. The treatment for prostate cancer may cause more health problems than the actual cancer. Despite the downsides, many doctors still recommend the PSA test. The test leads to early detection of prostate cancer, which increases the patient’s chance of survival. This test is also especially helpful for diagnosing cancer in younger patients.

A more recent option for prostate cancer screening is the use of genetic testing. Your genetic information may reveal if you have a gene associated with aggressive forms of prostate cancer. If your test reveals you have this gene, your doctor might suggest that you undergo more frequent PSA tests and digital rectal exams. You may also be advised to begin these screenings at a younger age.