What Is Prostate Cancer?

Summary: Prostate cancer initially develops within the prostate gland of men. Symptoms may be urinary and sexual in nature. Treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy may be given.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer found in men; it initially develops within the prostate gland. The prostate gland is situated below the bladder within the pelvic area & is connected to the seminal vesicles. The prostate gland and seminal vesicles create seminal fluid which is ejaculated during sexual intercourse.

When prostate cancer first develops within the prostate gland there may only be small numbers of cancer cells present. At this early stage, prostate cancer remains undetected by imaging scans or from physical examination. Physical examination takes the form of a physician placing a finger up the patient's rectum to feels for abnormalities of the prostate (digital rectal examination).

Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

As prostate cancer develops tumors can form within the prostate gland. Tumors are concentrated areas of cancerous cells which have formed lumps. Tumors can lead to an enlarged prostate gland. For a correct diagnosis a physician must rule out other conditions such as prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) - a benign a condition in which the prostate gland becomes enlarged.

Prostate cancer is diagnosed after one or a number of tests have been taken. These tests can include a digital rectal examination, imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans, needle biopsy, PSA & Gleason tests.

When a diagnosis of prostate cancer is made, a physician will also stage the cancer. Staging helps mark the development of the cancer in the body. Staging is an important diagnostic tool as it helps the physician decide the best course of treatment. Staging can also help when estimating a patient's chance of survival.

The are four stages of prostate cancer. Stage 1 is the first, in which prostate cancer is localized to the prostate gland, and stage 4 is the most advanced in which prostate cancer has spread away from the prostate gland to other areas of the body. There can be different signs and symptoms associated with the different stages. For example, at Stage 1 there may be no symptoms at all. At Stage 4 there can be symptoms specific to the other areas of the body affected which often includes pain in the bones.

Symptoms

The common symptoms of prostate cancer, which can occur at stages 2, 3, 4, may be urinary and sexual in nature. When tumors develop within the prostate gland, the gland can become enlarged which puts pressure on the urethra which passes through the middle. The urethra is a tube in which urine flows from the bladder.

When pressure is put on the urethra, a number of symptoms can arise. Urinary symptoms of prostate cancer include pain and a weaker flow when urinating. Sexual problems associated with prostate cancer include impotence and painful ejaculations.

In advanced cases of prostate cancer, where this disease has spread to other parts of the body, there can be symptoms specific to these areas. The bones are one such area; pain in the bones is a common symptom of stage four prostate cancer.

Treatment

Treatment for prostate cancer varies and is decided on a case by case basis. Where early stage prostate cancer is found in a younger man, they may be considered more at risk of the cancer developing over time. In such cases a physician may advise surgical removal of the prostate gland. This operation is known as a radical prostatectomy. If the cancer has not extended out from the prostate gland surgery can provide a cure.

Other treatment options include radiation therapy and hormonal therapy which shrinks or slows the growth of tumors.

A further option, instead of treatment, is to take a 'watch and wait' approach. In many early stage cases of prostate cancer, where the patient is of an advanced age, there are limited symptoms (if any), the cancer is slow growing; no treatment may be given. Any benefits from treatment may be outweighed by their side effects.

Prognosis

The prognosis for early stage cases of prostate cancer is good with almost 100% surviving more than 5 years since their initial diagnosis. Where prostate cancer has spread away from the prostate gland to other areas of the body, survival rates are not so high.