Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. According to the American Cancer Society, 17 out 100 men (17 percent) age 50 and older will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis during their life.
Located in front of the rectum and just below the bladder, the prostate is a male reproductive gland about the size and shape of a walnut. Like all cancers, prostate cancer occurs when normal cells-in this case, cells in the prostate-become malignant and start to grow uncontrollably.
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Prostate cancer may have no early symptoms. While the following signs may indicate prostate cancer, alone they may signal other medical problems, such as an infection or enlargement of the prostate. Any symptoms should be discussed with your primary care provider.
- Difficulty urinating
- An increase in frequency of urination, especially at night
- Blood in your urine
- Difficulty having or maintaining an erection
- Pain in your pelvic area
Although researchers still do not know what causes prostate cancer, they have identified certain risk factors that have consistently been associated with prostate cancer. The following groups of men are at a higher risk for prostate cancer:
- Older Men: As men age, their risk for prostate cancer increases. The chance of developing prostate cancer goes up significantly after age 50. Two-thirds (66 percent) of prostate cancer occur in men 65 and older.
- Family History: Men with a father or brother who has or had prostate cancer are at an increased risk for the disease. This is especially true if the family member developed prostate cancer before age 65.
- Race: While the reasons behind it are still unknown, African-American men are at an increased risk for prostate cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, African American men have about a 19 percent chance (1 in 5) of receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis.
- Diet: Men who eat a lot of fat (five or more servings per day of meat, dairy, eggs and butter) in their diet have a greater chance of developing prostate cancer. Men with a high-fat diet also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables and more dairy products (These other factors may be responsible for increased risk rather than the amount of fat itself).
While prostate cancer is a relatively common cancer among men, the good news is that, when caught in its early stages, it is a highly treatable disease. Because early-stage prostate cancer typically has no symptoms, annual prostate screenings are recommended.
Quick and easy prostate cancer screening at MedStar Health can keep you healthy and put you and your family at ease.
The good news about prostate cancer, which grows slowly and produces few symptoms, is that treatment is effective if detected early. Most doctors agree that healthy men over the age of 50 should consider prostate cancer screening, with the following tests.
Screening should occur earlier, at age 40, in those who are at a higher risk of prostate cancer, such as African-American men or those with a family history of prostate cancer. However, you and your MedStar Health doctor should discuss how and when testing can benefit you specifically.
- Prostate-Specific Antigen Blood Test (PSA): PSA is a protein found in semen and is produced by prostate cells. The function of these cells is to keep the semen liquid. If the prostate cells begin to break down or make more of the protein, they will escape into the blood. This causes the numbers to become elevated, signaling that there may be a problem with prostate function.
The PSA blood test measures the level of PSA in the blood; high level occur frequently in men with prostate cancer. However, some men may have high PSA in their blood and not have prostate cancer. That is why it is important to be seen by a urologic oncologist with experience in treating this form of cancer.
As a result of the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test in the last 10 years, men are being diagnosed with prostate cancer 10 years earlier, and the prostate cancer death rate has decreased by 30 percent.
- Digital Rectal Examination (DRE): Your doctor will perform this test in the office. While the patient is lying on his side or with his knees draw up to his chest, your doctor will insert a gloved finger into the rectum to examine the prostate gland. The size, shape, and any irregularities will be noted.
If you or someone you love is newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, you probably feel overwhelmed with a tremendous amount of information and questions. MedStar Health specialists can help you answer those questions and explain your options to you in a way that will make sense.
Once you have a prostate cancer diagnosis, your doctor may refer to the stage of the disease by a number. These numbers describe how large the tumor is and how far beyond the urinary system it may have spread. All of these factors will determine your treatment route.
- Stage I: Cancer can't be detected by digital rectal examination and is confined to the prostate without evidence of spread outside the prostate.
- Stage II: The cancer can be detected by digital rectal examination or an elevated PSA but no evidence exists that the cancer has spread outside the prostate to other organs.
- Stage III: Cancer has extended through the capsule that encloses the prostate gland and may involve nearby tissues.
- Stage IV: Cancer invades structures adjacent to the prostate, has spread to the lymph nodes, or to other parts of the body such as the liver, bones, or lungs.
- Recurrent/Relapsed: The prostate cancer has been detected or returned (recurred/relapsed) following an initial treatment with surgery or radiation therapy.
While common, prostate cancer is a complex and sometimes hard-to-navigate cancer. Treatment options are varied, depend on a variety of factors (such as age, general health and preferences) and all come with both benefits and risks. It is important to discuss different treatments with your doctor and decide which approach is right for you. Learn more about prostate cancer treatment.