Understanding Prostate Cancer

male forms symbolizing prostate cancer

The prostate is a gland in men that produces fluid used by the body for ejaculation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer for men in the U.S. It is also a leading cause of death in the United States. Prostate cancer largely affects older men and is common in all races.

Risk Factors

While medical professionals haven't pinpointed an exact cause of prostate cancer, the two most common risk factors for the disease are age and genetics. Men older than 50 are most likely to have prostate cancer, and most men older than 70 commonly have some level of excess growth in the prostate, with or without symptoms. Men with relatives who have had the disease are also the most likely to find cancer cells in their own prostate glands. Diet is an additional factor, and it has been shown that diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in meats and fatty or starchy foods lower the incidence of the disease.

Symptoms

Early prostate cancer has few symptoms, but as it progresses, the growing size of the prostate can cause changes in urination, including increased frequency or pain, difficulty stopping or starting, difficulty in full elimination of urine, bloody urine or semen, lower back and hip pain, and more.

Erectile dysfunction or any unusual sensations or experiences during ejaculation are another possible sign. Doctors performing annual physicals can do a manual check of the size and state of the prostate to look for early growths, though this is not the same as a true screening. Because this particular cancer spreads easily to other body systems, any early signs should be checked immediately by a doctor.

Detection

Finding cancer cells can be done with a few different methods. In most cases, imaging is used to locate a mass in the prostate gland, which must then be biopsied. A biopsy involves a tissue sample being taken and analyzed under a microscope to see if cells are cancerous. These procedures are done to determine the presence of prostate cancer and what stage or level of aggressiveness the cancer is currently in. The imaging can be done with an MRI, CT, ultrasound, or bone scan. There is also a blood test that can be used for early screening that looks at levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), or proteins released as an immune response to prostate cancer. The PSA test is not recommended by all doctors.

Treatment Options

There are a few different treatment options possible if you are diagnosed with prostate cancer. If the cancer is in early stages, your doctor may want to watch and wait. This is because not all cancers advance to more dangerous stages, and aggressive treatment can lead to unnecessary urinary problems and erectile dysfunction.

Aggressive treatments include radiation therapy with a focused laser or small radioactive pellets, surgery, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy, which slows the cancer growth but doesn't kill it. Surgery is the most common treatment option if the cancer hasn't spread outside the gland. Less common treatments include cryotherapy, or deep freezing, which may cause impotence in most patients. Another rarely used option is the “prostate cancer vaccine,” which is not a preventative tool but a manufactured soup that is replicated from your body's own immune responses to the cancer.

Prevention

A healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and lots of exercise are not only a great way to be youthful but they are also the only known prevention methods for prostate cancer. Regular physicals that include a prostate exam can lead to detection, preventing the progression to later stages of cancer.