- Who Can Get It
- Complications and Side Effects
What is prostate cancer?
Find out what prostate cancer is and how doctors diagnose and treat it today.
Prostate cancer is when the damaged cell division and development associated with cancer occurs in the prostate, which is responsible for producing some of the fluid that makes up semen.
Most types of prostate cancer, adenocarcinoma, start in the gland cells, which produce semen. While these are common, rarer types include small cell carcinoma, transitional cell carcinoma, and sarcoma.
When cancer first sets in, it may not have any symptoms. As it progresses, you might develop some or all of the following signs:
Doctors believe there is no single cause for cancer. Genetics has a part to play in cancer development, as does diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Exposure to certain chemicals, radiation, and tobacco products are other possible causes of cancer.
Who can get it?
There are several risk factors involved in developing cancer. Some of these factors are:
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Diagnosis for prostate cancer
Doctors use several tests to determine if you have prostate cancer. Most people with prostate cancer are initially identified by a digital rectal exam or by a blood test that screens for prostate-specific antigens (PSA).
If doctors find a high PSA level or notice something during the rectal exam, they will order a biopsy to test a tissue sample. They will usually gather a tissue sample with a needle that they insert into the prostate. Doctors also use imaging such as an ultrasound or MRI to look at the prostate.
A lab analyzes the samples and sends the results to your doctor. They will tell you whether you tested positive, negative, or suspicious — which means something was there, but not cancer.
Treatments for prostate cancer
If you’ve received a diagnosis for prostate cancer, the doctors have several options to treat it. Doctors choose from the following treatments:
The type of treatment your doctor decides upon depends on the stage of cancer you are in. Your best treatment options for a less aggressive stage (stage one or two) might be just waiting, while stage four might require all methods.
Your doctor might prescribe one of the many available medications for your prostate cancer, depending on their diagnosis. There are around 24 medications your doctor can choose from. A few of them are:
- Bicalutamide (Casodex)
- Leuprolide acetate (Eligard)
- Apalutamide (Erleada)
Researchers are continuously coming up with and testing new types of treatment for prostate cancer. Some of the newer treatments are:
- Proton beam radiation therapy
- Photodynamic therapy
- High-intensity-focused ultrasound therapy
A few of the types of surgeries a doctor can perform are robot-assisted radical prostatectomy or open radical prostatectomy. Both allow removal of the prostate through the lower abdomen.
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Possible complications and side effects
Depending on your course of treatments, there are possible side effects. Talk to your doctor to weigh the risks against the severity of your prostate cancer. Chemotherapy or radiation can damage normal cells and cause side effects like:
If you get surgery, you could develop trouble controlling your urine, or incontinence. It may take you a little time to get back bladder control, but incontinence will happen less often with time. Talk with your doctor about special exercises to help stop the problem completely.
Prostate cancer surgery can also often lead to erectile dysfunction. If possible, try to get nerve-sparing surgery to avoid this, but it will not always be a choice.
Many people also feel mentally worn down while managing their cancer, leading to high stress and depression. The best way to try to avoid this is to talk with your family and friends about how you’re feeling at every step of the way and establish a support group to help you cope. A counselor can also help you with this.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Cedars-Sinai: “Prostate Cancer.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Prostate Cancer Statistics.”
InformedHealth.org: “How does the prostate work?”
National Cancer Institute: "Cancer Stat Facts: Prostate Cancer."
National Cancer Institute: “Drugs Approved for Prostate Cancer.”
National Cancer Institute: “Prostate Cancer Treatment (PDQ)-Patient Version.”
National Cancer Institute: “Risk Factors for Cancer.”
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Early-Stage Prostate Cancer Treatment
If prostate cancer is detected early and appears to be slow-growing, invasive procedures, chemotherapy, radiation and other approaches can sometimes do more harm than good. Many prostate cancer treatments come with side effects, like incontinence or impotence, so it’s in the patient’s interest to put off invasive treatments as long as is medically safe. Active surveillance is where doctors "watch and wait" for changes that could prompt medical intervention.
How Is Prostate Cancer Diagnosed?
Prostate cancer is largely a disease of men over 40, so it’s around this age doctors recommend the first prostate screening. The first exam is a blood test to determine if there are abnormal prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels in your blood – PSA is produced by the prostate. If the PSA is high, your doctor will perform a digital rectal exam, during which the doctor feels your prostate from inside your rectum with a gloved finger. Other diagnostic tests include an endoscopic biopsy of tumor tissue for analysis in a lab.
Prostate CancerProstate cancer is the most common cancer in men after skin cancer. Risk factors include age, family history, ethnicity, and diet. Prostate cancer is diagnosed by digital rectal exam, prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, and prostate biopsy. Symptoms may include frequent need to urinate, incontinence, pain, blood in the urine, fatigue, and more. Prognosis and treatment depend on cancer staging. Watchful waiting, surgery, radiation, cryotherapy, and other management strategies are available. Research and clinical trials strive to find new and better treatments for prostate cancer.
Prostate Cancer QuizIs prostate cancer the most common cancer in men? Take this quiz to find out and learn the causes, symptoms and treatments of this disease.
Prostate Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy, Bone-Targeted and Immune Therapy
Doctors may introduce chemotherapy and immune therapy if other measures fail to cure a case of prostate cancer. However, unlike with other forms of cancer, chemotherapy isn’t the first choice for early prostate cancer. Immune therapy uses the body's own immune system to attack the prostate tumor, while bone-targeted therapy aims to preserve bone and prevent metastasis.
Prostate Cancer Treatment: Focal Therapy and Other Experimental Treatments
Several new and experimental treatments for prostate cancer are under study, including treatments that use ultrasound, lasers, tissue-freezing gas, and new ways of administering radiation. These new methods are types of focal therapy, that is, treatment focused on the cancer cells in the prostate, rather than systemic therapy that administers medications or other treatments to the whole body with the aim of treating the prostate.
Prostate Cancer SlidesProstate cancer is the most common cancer in men. Learn the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer, along with causes and treatments. Know the stages, survival rates and lower your risk of prostate cancer.
Prostate Cancer (Prostatic Cancer) Symptoms and Causes
Difficulty with urination – frequency, weak stream, trouble getting started, etc. – is usually the first sign of prostate cancer. But these and other early symptoms of prostatic cancer can also come from benign prostate conditions, so diagnostic testing is important, including PSA tests and digital rectal exam.
Prostate Cancer Treatment: Radiation, Brachytherapy and Radiopharmaceuticals
Radiation treatment for prostate cancer is a powerful tool at doctors’ disposal. Using radiation vs. surgery or other invasive treatments to kill cancer cells may still cause side effects, but ideally they are less severe. Radiation therapy can be performed via external beam therapy (EBRT) or the placement of radioactive seeds into the prostate (prostate brachytherapy) or using radioactive drugs (radiopharmaceuticals).
Prostate Cancer Treatment: Radical Prostatectomy Surgery
Radical prostatectomy, or surgical removal of the entire prostate gland, isn’t typically the first choice in prostate cancer treatment. Sometimes a radical approach is necessary to keep the cancer from metastasizing, however. Some cases are too severe or diagnosed too late for drugs or radiation to have much effect. In these cases, treatment teams may opt for a radical prostatectomy, despite potential side effects like impotence and incontinence.
Prostate Cancer Staging and Prognosis
The prognosis for prostate cancer, as with any cancer, depends on how advanced the cancer has become, according to established stage designations. The patient's PSA score at diagnosis, as well as their Gleason score (the grading system used to determine the aggressiveness of prostate cancer) determines the prognosis and final stage designation. Prostate cancer has a high survival rate in general, but your chances depend on the stage of the cancer.
Prostate Cancer Treatment: Hormonal Therapy
Prostate cancer is highly sensitive to, and dependent on, the level of the male hormone testosterone, which drives the growth of prostate cancer cells. Testosterone belongs to a family of hormones called androgens, and today front-line hormonal therapy for advanced and metastatic prostate cancer is called androgen deprivation therapy (ADT).