The prostate is a gland involved in the male reproductive system. It is surrounded by other glands, nerves and organs involved in sexual function. It is wrapped around the urethra and helps control the flow of urine. While men can live without a prostate, its location makes prostate cancer difficult to treat.
Prostate cancer is a common, but usually slow growing cancer, compared to other types of cancer. It's growth is fed by, and generally depends on, male hormones. In most cases, prostate cancer is an adenocarcinoma, a cancer of the epithelial cells which compose the inner lining of glands.
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed non-skin cancer in American men. It is the second greatest cause of cancer related death for men, second only to lung cancer. According to the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, in 2006, approximately 234,460 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and approximately 27,350 will die as a result of the disease - down 10% from 2005.
For the general population, a man has about a 17% chance of getting prostate cancer in his lifetime and a 3% chance of dying from it. Some men have a much higher risk, such as men with a father, brother or other relative who has had prostate cancer, African American men, and Veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
Two tests are commonly used to detect prostate cancer; a blood test, the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test and a physical exam, the Digital Rectal Exam (DRE). They are usually administered by your regular doctor. Typically, men should start yearly screening at age 50.
Men with one or more high risk factors should start yearly testing at 45 or earlier. Some men choose to take a PSA test at 40, to establish a baseline level for future comparison.
There are no noticeable symptoms of prostate cancer while it is still in the early stages, which is why screening is so critical. In more advanced stages, symptoms may include difficult or frequent urination, blood in the urine or bone pain. In order to find prostate cancer in its most treatable form, it must be caught before symptoms appear.
Changing your diet can lower your risk. A low fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is a good start. Studies show a strong connection between consumption of saturated fat and red meat, and increased rates of prostate cancer diagnosis and mortality. Large studies are underway to confirm evidence that Soy, Vitamin E, tomatoes and other foods may lower your risk.
Many options for treatment are available, and the right treatment for each man depends very much on their individual case. Some choose to wait and watch for signs of disease progression. Some choose surgery, radiation, hormone therapy or a combination of methods. If these treatments fail, some patients enroll in clinical trials to try therapies that are promising but still in the research phase.
Ten things that every man should know about prostate cancer
- One in every six men will get prostate cancer sometime in his life. Over 234,460 new cases are expected this year— more than breast cancer.
- The chances of getting prostate are 1 in 3 if you have just one close relative (father, brother) with the disease. The risk 83% with two close relatives. With three, it's almost a certainty (97%).
- African American men are at special risk for the disease, with the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world: 1 in 4 men. African American men are 2.5 times more likely to die from the disease.
- Prostate Cancer is the second-leading cause of male cancer-related death in the United States. An estimated 27,350 men will die from prostate cancer this year, down 10% from 30,350 in 2005.
- There are no noticeable symptoms of prostate cancer while it is still in the early stages. This is why screening is so critical.
- Every man age 50 or over should resolve to be screened annually. African American men or those with a family history of the disease should start screening at 40 or 45.
- Before early detection through PSA screening, only 1 in 4 prostate cancer cases were found while still in the early stages. With the widespread use of screening, about 9 out of 10 cases are now found early - giving men a fighting chance.
- Nearly 100% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer while it is still in the early stages are still alive 5 years from diagnosis.* Of men diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, 33.4% survive 5 years.*
- Screening for prostate cancer involves a simple blood test and a physical exam. It takes about 10 minutes and is covered by health insurance in many states.
- Obesity is a significant predictor of prostate cancer severity. Men with a body mass index over 32.5 have about 1/3 greater risk of dying from prostate cancer. Research shows high cholesterol levels are strongly associated with advanced prostate cancer.
*not including those who died from causes other than prostate cancer.