What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer (with the most common form called Adenocarcinoma) is the growth of malignant prostate glandular cells in the prostate gland. These cells multiply and have the potential to spread beyond the prostate gland. The prostate gland, which is about the size of a walnut, sits between a man's bladder and rectum at the bottom of his pelvis. A key function of the prostate gland is to provide sperm with the necessary nutrients and help in their maturation. Prostatic fluids also help in protecting sperm when they are traveling in the acidic female reproductive system.
Click on Prostate Anatomy for more information about how the prostate works.
In the US more than 70% of all prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men over the age of 65. The incidence of prostate cancer in African American men and Jamaican men of African descent is over twice the incidence identified in white men (70.4/100,000 versus 28.8/100,000). The disease is common in North America and northwestern Europe and is significantly less common in Asia and South America (13.0/100,000 and 23.5/100,000 versus 28.8/100,000). (American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures 2005, pp 18) Recent genetic studies suggest that a familial predisposition may also be responsible for 5-10% of prostate cancers. Data from the Cancer Prevention Study II and published in European Urology* suggests that dietary habits may also play a role in the development of the disease. Because of this linkage between nutrition, physical activity and cancer, the American Cancer Society in 2002 published updated guidelines for nutrition and physical activity.
* Eur Urol 1999; 35 (5-6):388-91
The digital rectal exam (DRE) and the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test are the two most common mass screening methods of detecting prostate cancer. Click on Testing and Staging for more information about tests that detect prostate cancer and how your doctor determines the stage of prostate cancer.
Staging of Prostate Cancer
When a doctor finds prostate cancer, he or she will clinically try to determine the extent of the disease. This is called clinical staging. The doctor may use various diagnostic tests, imaging, and other tests to find out whether the cancer has spread, and if so to which location. The stage of the disease, later combined with its pathological grade, will help determine treatment options. Click on Testing and Staging for more information about how prostate cancer is staged.
Progression of Prostate Cancer
Most prostate cancers will grow slowly. However, in some cases prostate cancer can grow rapidly regardless of the patient's age and can become life threatening. If it is not treated, the cancer may spread beyond the prostate gland, reach surrounding tissue and organs, and eventually spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment of prostate cancer
There are many forms of treatment for prostate cancer. The best treatment depends on several factors: the disease clinical stage, pathological grade, the man's age and life expectancy, his doctor's recommendations and his own decisions and expectations. See the Prostate Cancer Treatment section of this website for more information.
Living with Prostate Cancer
Early detection and proper treatment aim to eliminate prostate cancer or to prevent it from progressing, which can greatly reduce the risk of dying from the disease and the occurrence of painful symptoms. Like any form of treatment, prostate cancer treatment can pose physical, psychological and emotional challenges, and some treatments require extensive recovery time. The patient may also deal with relational, sexual and other issues during the course of treatment and recovery.
Knowledge is power. The more a man and his partner learns about prostate cancer, the better equipped they are to handle the challenges of the disease.
Have more questions? Click here to find a doctor in your area.