Prostate cancer at a glance
- In prostate cancer, cells grow out of control in the prostate, the male gland that produces seminal fluid to transport sperm.
- Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among American men, affecting nearly two-thirds of males in their late 60s and older. It is extremely rare in men younger than age 40.
- There are no known causes, although risk factors include age, family history, race, geographic location, genetic factors and lifestyle.
- The main symptoms are problems with urination.
- Treatment varies greatly depending on each patient, circumstances of his case and the philosophy of his doctor.
- Because treatment technology is changing rapidly, and there is much controversy over the best treatment plans, men diagnosed with the disease should not hesitate to seek second opinions.
What is prostate cancer?
The prostate is a male gland located in the torso under the bladder, and it surrounds the urethra, the tube through which urine flows. About the size of a golf ball, the prostate produces a thick fluid that is a normal component of semen.
Prostate cancer occurs when prostate cells grow out of control. It may grow very slowly or quite rapidly, depending on the type of prostate cancer.
This form of cancer is the most common among American men after non-melanoma skin cancer, and is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
An American male has a one-in-seven chance of developing the disease in his lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. The vast majority of cases strike men older than 50, and studies of males who died from unrelated causes found the disease in 30 to 70 percent of men older than 60.
Fortunately, widespread screening means the majority of newly diagnosed prostate cancers are found early when they are still confined to the prostate gland. Thus, the number of prostate cancer-related deaths has decreased.
What is the cause of prostate cancer?
As is the case for almost all cancers, researchers know little about likely causes of prostate cancer. However, doctors have identified a number of factors that increase the risk:
- Age – Nearly two-thirds of men who get prostate cancer are in their late 60s or older. It rarely strikes men younger than 40.
- Family history – Any man with a father or brother who has had prostate cancer is more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if several relatives have had prostate cancer.
- Race and geographic location – African-American men and Jamaican men of African ancestry are more likely to develop the disease. Asians and Hispanics are less at risk than Caucasian men. Prostate cancer is more common in Europe, the Caribbean, Australia and North America than in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America.
- Genes – Mutations of the gene known as BRCA2 (one of the best known of the so-called cancer genes, which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women) can boost the odds of prostate cancer.
- Lifestyle – Scientific research has found an apparent association between prostate cancer and diets rich in fatty foods and red meat but low in fruits and vegetables. Obesity appears also to contribute to increased risks.
Read Gary’s story: Surviving Prostate Cancer
The following signs may indicate prostate cancer, although they are also common symptoms for other disorders:
- A weak or interrupted urine flow
- Problems starting a flow of urine
- Having to urinate frequently, especially at night
- Sudden urges to urinate
- Pain or burning during urination
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Problems emptying the bladder completely
- Chronic pain in the pelvis, hips or back
- Fatigue, accelerated pulse, dizziness or shortness of breath.
The symptoms are similar to another condition known as an enlarged prostate, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is not cancer.