Prostate Cancer: Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatments
Prostate cancer means that cancer cells form in the tissues of the prostate, the walnut-sized gland that surrounds the urethra in men. It is the most common cancer in American men after skin cancer. Prostate cancer tends to grow slowly compared with most other cancers and may require 10, 20, or 30 years before the tumor gets big enough to cause symptoms. Eventually, cancer cells may metastasize (spread) throughout the body.
By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may be more advanced. By age 50, very few men have symptoms of prostate cancer, yet some precancerous or cancerous cells are present. More than half of all American men have some cancer in their prostate glands by the age of 80. Most of these cancers never pose a problem. They either give no signs or symptoms or never become a serious threat to health. A much smaller percentage of men are actually treated for prostate cancer. Many men with prostate cancer do not die from this disease.
Prostate cancer can sit quietly for years, and most men with the disease have no obvious symptoms. When symptoms finally appear, they may be similar to the symptoms of BPH:
* Trouble passing urine
* Frequent urge to pass urine
* Weak or interrupted stream
* Pain or burning
* Nagging pain in the back, hips, or pelvis
Prostate cancer can spread to the lymph nodes of the pelvis, or it may spread throughout the body, often to the bones. Bone pain, especially in the back, can be a symptom. The risk factors for prostate cancer are:
* Age — being 50 or older increases the risk of prostate cancer
* Race — African-American men have the highest risk; Asian-American men have the lowest; Caucasian, Hispanic and Native-American men are in between.
* Family History — The risk is two to three times higher in men whose fathers or brothers have had the disease; slightly higher for men whose mothers and sisters have had breast cancer
* Diet — higher in men who eat high fat diets with few fruits and vegetables
Early detection is crucial to successful treatment. Men over the age of 50 should have annual prostate exams by a qualified physician who may perform one or more of the following:
* Health history and current symptoms
* Digital rectal exam (DRE) — The DRE is the standard way to check the prostate. With a gloved and lubricated finger, the doctor feels the prostate from the rectum. The test lasts about 10 to 15 seconds. This exam checks for size, firmness, and texture of the prostate; any hard areas, lumps, or growth spreading beyond the prostate; and pain in the prostate.
* Prostate Specific Antigen Test (PSA) — PSA is a protein made by normal cells and prostate cancer cells. It is found in the blood and can be measured with a blood test. PSA levels can rise if a man has prostate cancer, but a high PSA is not proof of cancer. PSA levels go up with age. African-American men tend to have higher PSA levels. Doctors often use a score of 4 (nanograms) or higher to determine that further tests are necessary.
* Prostate Biopsy — If cancer is suspected, a biopsy may be indicated. Usually performed by a urologist, small tissue samples are taken directly from the prostate and examined under a microscope. Most men who have biopsies after routine exams do not have cancer, but it is best to check if cancer is suspected.
Treatment options for prostate cancer include:
* Radiation, including implantable radon seeds
* A combination of the above