What Is Prostate Cancer?

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Overview

Prostate cancer is a kind of cancer that affects the small walnut-sized prostate gland found in the male reproductive system. Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells that can divide and spread uncontrollably throughout the body.1

Prostate cancer is a common type of cancer in men and is second to lung cancer in worldwide prevalence.1 The development of prostate cancer is usually slow and without initial symptoms. Still, as it grows, it is accompanied by symptoms such as difficulty urinating, frequent urination, blood or semen in urine, erectile dysfunction, and pain in the lower back, hips, or pelvis.1 

There are some risk factors associated with prostate cancer which include age, ethnicity, family history of prostate cancer, and gene mutation. The options for the treatment of prostate cancer are dependent on the stage of the cancer, overall health, and age of the patient. These treatment options include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, or surgery.1

Causes of prostate cancer

The cause of prostate cancer is still not clear but numerous risk factors have been  linked with the disease.3 Some of these factors include age, family history, race, diet, obesity, and hormones. Prostate cancer is more common in men over the age of 50, and those with a family history of prostate cancer. The disease is also more common among  black men and less common among hispanic and asian men. 

Lifestyle choices such as diet and weight are also a risk factor for prostate cancer. Red meat, dairy products, and a high calcium diet may increase prostate cancer risk, and similarly overweight or obese men are at a higher risk. Testosterone in high levels may also increase this risk while a balanced diet and regular exercise canreduce your chances of developing prostate cancere.3

Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer

There are usually no symptoms during the early stages of prostate cancer as it first develops in the outer part of the gland which means that the cancer needs to have grown to a certain size before it’s large enough to exert pressure on the urethra and therefore produce symptoms.2 Difficulty with urination is often not the result of prostate cancer but due toa condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) which is enlargement of the prostate gland. Other symptoms that arise as the cancer metastasises in the body include weight loss, back or bone pain, and fatigue.2

Management and treatment for prostate cancer

In screening for prostate cancer, a blood test measures the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood, and a digital rectal exam (DRE) checks the size and texture of the prostate gland.1The stage of cancer plus the patient’s age, overall health and lifestyle choices are indications of how the disease can be managed or treated. The treatment options include:

  • Active surveillance: This involves close disease monitoring e by doctors without immediate treatment. This is often recommended for men who have low-grade prostate cancer and those whose life expectancy is less than 10 years4
  • Surgery: Here, the prostate gland is removed surgically and this is recommended for men that have localised prostate cancer with prostate prostatectomy as the most common surgical procedure4
  • Radiation therapy: This involves the internal or external administration of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells4
  • Hormone therapy: Here, your hormone levelsare blocked and reduced. These hormones are implicated in the growth of prostate cancer cells4
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy deals with the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It is often used in cases where prostate cancer has spread to other parts of the body4
  • Immunotherapy: This involves the use of medications that help your immune system to fight cancer cells4

FAQ

How is prostate cancer diagnosed? 

Many methods can be used in prostate cancer diagnosis which include  prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests, digital rectal examination, biopsies, and imaging.5

How can I prevent prostate cancer? 

The is no guaranteed method for preventing prostate cancer but there are lifestyle choices that could lower your chances of developing the disease. These include; eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, regular cancer screenings, and prostate cancer prevention medications.6

What are the stages of prostate cancer? 

The extent of prostate cancer is an indication of the stage of the disease. The TNM system is the staging system used for prostate cancer which stands for Tumour, Node, and Metastasis. In this TNM system, prostate cancer is categorised into four stages. These stages are important in the determination of the best treatment options and prognosis of the disease. There are Stages I to Stage IV. 

Stage I is where the cancer is small and has not spread past the prostate gland or  cause any symptoms but could be detected through a PSA test or biopsy. In Stage II, though the cancer is bigger, it is still confined to the prostate gland and may be detected through biopsy or DRE. There may be symptoms in this stage such as difficulty urinating or frequent urination. In Stage III, cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland and may involve tissues and organs that are nearby like the seminal testicles. It could cause symptoms like swelling in the legs and bone pain. Stage IV prostate cancer is where cancer has spread to other parts of the body like the lymph nodes, bones, or other organs causing symptoms like difficulty breathing, fatigue, and weight loss.7

What are the types of prostate cancer? 

There are different types of cancer based on the appearance of the cancer cells under a microscope with the most common types of cancer being adenocarcinoma and small-cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma is more common than small-cell carcinoma and it originates in the gland cells of the prostate and grows more slowly while small-cell carcinoma is more aggressive, with rapid growth and spread. There are several other rare types of prostate cancer which are sarcomas, neuroendocrine tumors, and transitional tumors.8

How common is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in men. It is most common in men over the age of 65. Black men are most likely to develop aggressive forms of the disease while asian and hispanic/latino men are less likely to have the disease.9

Who are at risk of prostate cancer? 

Some men are more likely to have the disease than others men. Factors that influence this include age, family history, race, obesity, and lifestyle choices.10

When should I see a doctor? 

You must see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms; difficulty starting or stopping urination, frequent urination, weak urine flow, blood in urine, and pain or discomfort in the lower back.11

Summary

Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in men worldwide and it affects the prostate gland. This kind of cancer may not cause any symptoms initially but as the cancer cells grow, they cause difficulty urinating, frequent urination, erectile dysfunction, and blood or semen in urine. Risk factors linked with prostate cancer include age, ethnicity, family history, and genetic mutations. Blood tests and digital rectal examinations for screening and treatment options include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, and hormone therapy. It is always good to attend an early screening session to discuss the risks of having the disease with your doctor. This is where you can understand your risks and you will be provided with guidance on how to maintain your health and reduce your risk of the disease.

References

  1. What is prostate cancer? [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 8]. Available from: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/prostate-cancer/about
  2. Symptoms of prostate cancer [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 8]. Available from: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/prostate-cancer/symptoms
  3. Prostate cancer - Causes [Internet]. NHS.uk. 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 13]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/causes/
  4. Petri E. Prostate cancer treatment options [Internet]. WebMD. [cited 2023 Mar 13]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/guide/prostate-cancer-treatments
  5. Tests for prostate cancer | prostate cancer diagnosis [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 16]. Available from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/how-diagnosed.html
  6. Prostate cancer prevention [Internet]. Prostate Cancer Foundation. [cited 2023 Mar 16]. Available from: https://www.pcf.org/patient-resources/family-cancer-risk/prostate-cancer-prevention/
  7. Prostate cancer stages and survival rate [Internet]. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. 2018 [cited 2023 Mar 16]. Available from: https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/prostate-cancer/stages
  8. Stages, types and grades of prostate cancer [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 16]. Available from: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/prostate-cancer/stages
  9. Prostate cancer [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 16]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/
  10. Prostate cancer risk factors [Internet]. Prostate Cancer Foundation. [cited 2023 Mar 16]. Available from: https://www.pcf.org/patient-resources/family-cancer-risk/prostate-cancer-risk-factors/
  11. Prostate cancer - Diagnosis [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2017 [cited 2023 Mar 16]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/diagnosis/

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Sandra Fidelis

Bachelor’s (Honours) Degree, Nursing Science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University

Sandra Fidelis is a registered nurse, certified health writer and public health researcher.
She has a wide range of experience in the care of diabetic patients, cancer patients, acutely ill patients, elderly care, clients with long-term conditions, palliative care, and public health care across various health systems with a bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science and continuing education in Public Health.
She brings her medical background to bear in her health content writing with the capacity of creating a layman’s impression of health articles and health content search engine optimization.

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