According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer , prostate cancer is the second most common cancer found in men the world over, and the fifth most common cancer overall. If you or someone close to you has been affected by prostate cancer, understanding more about it can help you cope.
In this section you can find more information about the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options available, as well lots of handy resources to help you through the journey.
Typically, there are no symptoms in the early stages of prostate cancer. Some advanced prostate cancers may include one or more of the following symptoms:
While other diseases and disorders can cause many of these same symptoms, it is important to consult with your doctor if you experience any of these difficulties so that the cause can be found and treated.
The prostate is a gland forming part of the male reproductive system. It is located in front of the rectum and below the bladder. The main function of the prostate gland is to produce fluid which protects and enriches sperm.
Prostate cancer occurs when some of the cells in the prostate reproduce far more rapidly than in a normal prostate, causing a growth or tumor. Prostate cancer cells can then spread by breaking away from the prostate tumor and invading other parts of the body, producing secondary tumors. This process is known as metastatis. Once the cancer escapes from the prostate, treatment is possible but a cure becomes impossible.
The cause of prostate cancer is not yet known, but researchers have found several factors that might affect the risk of getting it. These include:
Caught in its early stages, prostate cancer can be cured. Regular testing offers the best opportunity to diagnose the cancer at its onset. An early diagnosis also means you have more treatment options with potentially fewer side effects.
When to start testing for prostate cancer is different from person to person, and is generally based on your individual risk. But the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia recommends including it as part of your annual health check-up in:
There are two main tests for prostate cancer:
The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA):
The PSA is a blood test that measures the blood level of PSA, a protein that is produced by the prostate gland. As a general rule, the higher the PSA result, the greater the chance that prostate cancer is present. However, there are other conditions that can cause an elevated PSA level, and some men who have prostate cancer do not have elevated PSA.
The Digital Rectal Examination (DRE):
The DRE is a physical examination of the lower rectum. The doctor inserts a gloved finger in the rectum to feel part of the surface of the prostate and check for abnormal enlargements or other signs of the cancer. The drawback to this test is that the doctor can feel only part of the prostate, so may miss abnormalities beyond reach.
Prostate cancer is diagnosed from the results of a biopsy of the prostate gland. If the results of the DRE or the PSA blood test are abnormal, a prostate cancer is suspected and a biopsy is usually then recommended by your doctor. A biopsy is a surgical procedure to remove a small sample of tissue from the prostate gland using a spring-loaded needle. It is performed with a Transrectal Ultrasound (TRUS), which generates an image of the prostate on a computer screen and guides the doctor to insert the needles into selected areas of the prostate. The procedure takes around 15 minutes and local anesthetic is usually used. The biopsy samples are then analysed by a pathologist to determine the outcome. There are four likely results:
If the results of your biopsy show the presence of cancer, the next thing you will need to find out is the grade and stage of your cancer. Understanding your diagnosis is one of the most important factors in choosing a treatment option that’s right for you. The systems below are the most widely used.
The Gleason score:
Based on the patterns of the prostate cells, the pathologist looking at the biopsy sample assigns a Gleason score between 2 and 10. Cancers with lower Gleason scores (2 - 4) tend to be less aggressive, while cancers with higher Gleason scores (7 – 10) tend to be more aggressive.
The TNM system is the most widely used staging system for prostate cancer, and is the standard way for the cancer care team to describe how far a cancer has spread. The overall stage is expressed in Roman numerals from I (the least advanced) to IV (the most advanced).
There is no "one size fits all" treatment for prostate cancer. Once your prostate cancer has been diagnosed, graded and staged, there is a lot to consider before you and your doctor choose a treatment plan. It is important to learn as much as possible about the many treatment options available and to weigh the benefits of each treatment against its possible outcomes, side effects, and risks.
It is recommended to consult with all three types of prostate cancer specialists—a urologist, a radiation oncologist, and a medical oncologist—to give you the most thorough assessment of the available treatments and expected outcomes.
The treatment you choose for prostate cancer should take into account:
Treatments are generally used one at a time, although in some cases they may be combined. Depending on your individual situation, your treatment options may include:
Because the exact cause of prostate cancer is not known, it is not yet possible to prevent most cases of the disease. While most risk factors like age, race, and family history can’t be controlled, there are some things you can do that might lower your risk of prostate cancer.
Based on cancer research, the following is recommended:
Finasteride and Dutasteride are drugs used to lower the amount of male sex hormones made by the body. Studies show that men taking either drug were less likely to develop prostate cancer after several years than those who did not. However, in men who took these drugs, there were more cases of prostate cancer that looked like they might grow and spread quickly. As such, it is not yet known whether these drugs lower the risk of death from prostate cancer. These drugs can also cause side effects such as lowered sexual desire and impotence. Men who would like to know more about this option should discuss it further with their doctors.
Early diagnoses can be made by testing men for prostate cancer regularly. The purpose of the screening is to detect tiny or even microscopic cancers that are still within the prostate gland. Early treatment of these cancers can stop the growth, prevent the spread, and possibly cure the cancer.