What Is Prostate Cancer?
The prostate is a walnut-sized male gland just below the bladder that surrounds the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder). Its cells produce components of seminal fluid.
Male hormones cause the prostate to grow until adulthood. Sometimes, it continues growing benignly and can cause problems with urination. Cancer can develop if the size and shape of prostate gland cells begin to change. As men age their risk for prostate cancer increases. More than 65% of prostate cancers occur in men older than 65, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Who Gets Prostate Cancer?
An estimated one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetimes, but advances in treatment mean only one in 35 will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Treatment is most effective when prostate cancer is diagnosed early, before it spreads to other parts of the body.
The risk of prostate cancer increases dramatically as men age. It affects only one in 10,000 men younger than forty, but one in 14 men in their sixties. A number of factors can increase risk:
- Men are twice as likely to develop prostate cancer if their father or a brother or son has had the disease.
- Men are at even higher risk if a relative was diagnosed with the disease before age 60.
How Do I Know If I Have Prostate Cancer?
Men with prostate cancer sometimes experience no symptoms, and tumors can grow so slowly that they never cause problems. However, without early detection, more aggressive forms of the disease can be difficult to treat effectively and can be fatal. In fact, about 27,000 men in the United States die from prostate cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
For this reason, the ACS recommends that physicians offer their male patients digital rectal exams and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests beginning at age 50, or at age 40 or 45 if they fall into high-risk groups. Blood levels of PSA, an enzyme produced by prostate gland cells, generally rise in men with prostate cancer.
When prostate cancer does cause symptoms, these may include problems with urination and erectile function, painful or burning urination or ejaculation, blood in urine or semen, or frequent pain or stiffness in hips, lower back, or upper thighs.
As with other cancers, the only way to know for sure is with a biopsy—a procedure in which a sample of the tumor is sent to the lab to be examined under a microscope.