Prostate cancer is the cancer of a man's prostate. The prostate is a gland near the penis that produces the seminal fluid that carries sperm. Prostate cancer usually grows slowly, and in early stages, is confined to the prostate, where it usually does not do much harm. Certain instances of prostate cancer never expand beyond the prostate, and need minimal treatment, or none at all. However, other, more damaging cases can grow and expand rapidly, for which treatment will be more difficult. Treatment of prostate cancer will be more effective the earlier it is noticed, before it grows beyond the prostate.
Prostate Cancer Symptoms
Prostate cancer may not have any symptoms, particularly when in the early stages. However, in more severe cases, the following symptoms may occur.
- Issues with urination
- Weak urine stream
- Bloody urine
- Bloody semen
- Back, hip, or thigh pain
- Frequent urination
- Pain or burning during urination or ejaculation
Prostate Cancer Causes
The causes of prostate cancer remain largely unclear. Prostate cancer begins when mutations within a cell's DNA cause the cell to grow and divide at abnormal rates, eventually composing a tumor. These abnormal cells may then expand to other areas of the body at the expense of normal healthy cells.
Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
Prostate cancer can be diagnosed in a variety of ways, but most often cancer is found by a screening of the prostate. There are a few types of prostate screenings. Whether or not prostate screenings are absolutely necessary remains under debate. It is possible for a screening to suggest cancer, when in fact cancer is not present. Also, screenings may not always catch cancer when it in fact is present.
Types of prostate screenings
- Digital rectal exam (DRE): A DRE is when your doctor physically examines your prostate by putting a gloved and lubricated finger into your rectum to feel the prostate for any abnormalities, such as with size or shape.
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test: A PSA test is when blood is drawn from your arm and tested for its level of PSA, a protein that is naturally created by the prostate. PSA is known to appear in abnormal amounts in a man with prostate cancer.
- If your doctor suspects prostate cancer from the results of either test, a biopsy of your prostate may be necessary.
- During a biopsy your doctor will insert a needle into your prostate to collect a few cells.
- These cells are then studied under a microscope for any presence of cancer.
Prostate Cancer Treatment
There are a number of ways to treat prostate cancer, particularly if the cancer is still in the early stage, when it is only present in the prostate and no other areas of the body. Early-stage prostate cancer, though still dangerous, is the least harmful, and has the highest chances of being cured. All instances of prostate cancer are different, and the benefits, risks, and side effects of treatment will differ between individuals. It is important to consult with your medical professional to find the method that works best for you.
Treatment Options for Early-Stage Prostate Cancer
- Surgery: a surgeon will perform a prostatectomy, in which the surgeon removes the entire prostate gland from your body. This option is recommended for younger men with prostate cancer, who are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, and for whom the long-term risks of prostate cancer are the greatest. Surgery effective, but only as long as the cancer remains confined to the prostate gland, and has yet to spread elsewhere in the body.
- Radiation therapy: this may refer to external beam radiation or brachytherapy. External beam radiation aims radioactive photon beams toward the prostate to eliminate the cancer, and is conducted over the course of multiple sessions. During brachytherapy, a doctor puts radioactive pellets in or around the cancer.
- Watchful waiting: Watchful waiting is not actually a form of treatment, but instead a type of patient management in which both you and your doctor continuously and closely monitor the prostate and the status of the cancer, to discern whether treatment is necessary.
Treatment Options for Advanced Prostate Cancer
- Prostate cancer that has expanded beyond the prostate is called advanced prostate cancer. For stage III cancer, or locally advanced cancer, this means that the cancer has spread to surrounding lymph nodes or seminal vesicles. Stage IV cancer, or metastatic cancer, means that the cancer has expanded into the lymphatic system or the bloodstream, from where it can spread further to other parts of the body. Both stage III and stage IV cancers are incurable with modern treatment. However, they can be closely monitored and controlled, and patients with either stage III or stage IV cancer can live many years when their cancer is controlled with treatment.
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