Early Prostate Cancer (cont.)

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer often does not cause symptoms for many years. By the time symptoms occur, the disease may have spread beyond the prostate. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Urinary problems:


    • Not being able to urinate.


    • Having a hard time starting or stopping the urine flow.


    • Needing to urinate often, especially at night.


    • Weak flow of urine.


    • Urine flow that starts and stops.


    • Pain or burning during urination.


  • Difficulty having an erection.


  • Blood in the urine or semen.


  • Frequent pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs.

These can be symptoms of cancer, but more often they are symptoms of noncancerous conditions. It is important to check with a doctor.

What other prostate conditions can cause symptoms like these?

As men get older, their prostate may grow bigger and block the flow of urine or interfere with sexual function. This common condition, called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is not cancer, but can cause many of the same symptoms as prostate cancer. Although BPH may not be a threat to life, it may require treatment with medicine or surgery to relieve symptoms. An infection or inflammation of the prostate, called prostatitis, may also cause many of the same symptoms as prostate cancer. Again, it is important to check with a doctor.

Can prostate cancer be found before a man has symptoms?

Yes. Two tests can be used to detect prostate cancer in the absence of any symptoms. One is the digital rectal exam (DRE), in which a doctor feels the prostate through the rectum to find hard or lumpy areas. The other is a blood test used to detect a substance made by the prostate called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Together, these tests can detect many "silent" prostate cancers that have not caused symptoms. Due to the widespread implementation of PSA testing in the United States, approximately 90 percent of all prostate cancers are currently diagnosed at an early stage, and, consequently, men are surviving longer after diagnosis.

At present, however, it is not known whether routine prostate screening saves lives. Screening is a term used to describe tests when they are done in individuals who are not experiencing any symptoms. The benefits of screening and local therapy (surgery or radiation) remain unclear for many patients. Because of this uncertainty, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a part of the National Institutes of Health, is currently supporting research to learn more about screening men for prostate cancer. Currently, researchers are conducting a large study to determine whether screening men using a blood test for PSA and a DRE can help reduce the death rate from this disease. They are also assessing the risks of screening. Full results from this study, the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial (PLCO), are expected by 2015.


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