What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer develops in men in their prostate gland. This is a small (walnut sized) gland in the reproductive system located under the bladder, and in front of the rectum. This gland makes part of the seminal fluid that carries sperm out of the body during ejaculation.
The prostate surrounds the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the penis. Because of that, one common sign of prostate problems is difficulty in urinating.
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 242,000 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012. It is the second most common type of cancer among men in the US, second only to skin cancer.
What causes prostate cancer?
It is not yet known what specifically causes prostate cancer. However, there are some common risk factors €” things that may increase the chance of getting a disease. Research has shown that men with these risk factors are more likely than others to develop prostate cancer. The main risk factors are race, age, and family history. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 70. It is rarely found in men younger than 45.
Men who are at higher risk include:
- African-American men
- Men older than 65
- Men who have a father or brother with prostate cancer
Please note that having a risk factor doesn’t mean that you will develop prostate cancer. Most men who have these risk factors never develop the disease.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
In its earliest stages, prostate cancer usually grows quietly, causing no detectable signs or symptoms. You can screen for prostate cancer risk during these early stages before symptoms appear with a simple PSA blood test. Because of PSA testing, most cancers are found before a man has ever had a single symptom.
Once the cancer has advanced it can cause these symptoms:
- Trouble starting and maintaining a steady stream of urine
- Weaker urine stream than usual
- Frequent urination
- Increased urination at night
- Painful urination
- Blood in the urine or the semen
- Swelling in the legs
- Pain or discomfort in the pelvic region
- Pain in the bones
- Difficulty achieving erection
- Painful ejaculation
Are all prostate growths cancerous?
Tumors in the prostate are not always cancerous. There are benign (non-cancer) tumors, and malignant (cancer) tumors.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a non-cancerous tumor in the prostate. It makes the prostate grow larger and squeezes the urethra, which causes changes in urination. BPH is very common in the US. In fact, most men over 50 have some symptoms of BPH. Sometimes the symptoms require treatment, but not cancer treatment. Although it is not cancer, BPH can increase your PSA test results.
- Rarely life-threatening
- Can be removed permanently
- Don’t spread to other parts of the body
Malignant, or cancerous, tumors cause many of the same symptoms as benign tumors, so it is important to be tested to determine which kind of tumor you have.
- May be life-threatening
- Can be removed but sometimes grow back
- Can invade nearby tissues and organs
- Can spread to other parts of the body
*Information from American Cancer Society (ACS) website.