signs and symptoms of prostate cancer

What You Should Know About Prostate Cancer

Understanding the Signs and Symptoms

As the name suggests, prostate cancer impacts the prostate gland and is the second most common form of cancer in men after skin cancer. Roughly 1 in 8 men will develop prostate cancer throughout their lifetime. In 2023 the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be roughly 288 300 new diagnoses and 34 700 deaths from the disease. While it is the second leading cause of cancer death, with 1 in 41 men dying, earlier screening and better treatment options have led to a decline in overall deaths. This article will outline what prostate cancer is, the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer and how it is treated.

What is Prostate Cancer?

Cancers of all kinds can develop in virtually any cell in the body. They are characterized by cells that grow rapidly and out of control, which can cause illness and malfunction of various glands, organs, tissues and cells of the body. Usually, cells in the body die off at a regular rate, but cancer cells continue growing and dividing.

Typically cancers start in one place and may spread or metastasize to other areas. Prostate cancer develops in the small, walnut-shaped reproductive gland located behind the bladder and in front of the rectum. This gland secretes a liquid that makes up part of the seminal fluid in ejaculate. Only men and those assigned male at birth have this gland, so women cannot develop this disease. While any cancer can be serious, early detection and treatment often prevent prostate cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.

The most common form of the prostate is called adenocarcinoma, which means that it is a type of cancer that impacts fluid-secreting glands, such as the prostate. With that said, there are four other rarer types of prostate cancer:

  • Sarcomas.
  • Neuroendocrine tumors.
  • Small cell carcinoma.
  • Transitional cell carcinomas.

What Are The Signs & Symptoms of Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer symptoms can range in frequency and severity and the early stages you may not experience any symptoms whatsoever. Prostate cancer signs to watch for include:

  • Urinary or bowel incontinence.
  • Frequent and urgent need to urinate–this can occur more often at night.
  • Blood in urine or semen.
  • Burning sensation or pain while urinating.
  • A weak urine stream may stop and start.
  • Pain in hips, chest or lower back.
  • Pain when ejaculating.
  • Erectile difficulties.
  • Weakness or numbness in feet and legs.

These prostate cancer signs are not always definitive proof that you have the disease and can indicate other issues. Prostatitis, inflammation and enlargement of the prostate, is common in men who are under 50. Typically this condition is caused by bacterial infections. Another common cause of these symptoms is benign prostatic hyperplasia. Essentially every male will eventually develop this condition as the prostate continues to grow throughout the lifespan. BPH is an enlarged prostate, but as the name suggests it is benign and not cause for concern.

If you are experiencing the above symptoms, it is a good idea to request a prostate screening at your next doctor’s appointment since early detection is your best defense against prostate cancer death. Ask your doctor for a prostate check–it’s quick and a great place to start if you’re concerned about your health.

What Are Causes of Prostate Cancer?

While researchers and doctors still aren’t entirely sure what causes some cells to mutate and become cancer cells, there are certain risk factors to be aware of.

  • Family history.
  • Age – Men over 50 are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. Roughly 60% of cases are found in men over 65.
  • Genetics – Men with Lynch syndrome or the BRCA1/BRCA2 genes are more likely to develop prostate cancer.
  • Race/ethnicity – Prostate cancer is more common in Black men and Caribbean men of African ancestry.
  • Geography – Prostate cancer is more common in North America, Australia, Caribbean islands and northwestern Europe.
  • Smoking.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.
  • Prostatitis.
  • A BMI over 30.

Prostate Cancer Treatments

When it comes to prostate cancer treatments, often the first step is surveillance. It’s an incredibly slow-growing cancer, so the watch-and-see approach is the first step. That means you will likely receive biopsies and screenings every year to monitor whether it has spread or grown. This step is best if you aren’t experiencing symptoms and the cancer is solely located on the prostate.

Surgery is the next phase of cancer treatment, specifically a radical prostatectomy in which the surgeon removes the prostate gland. This surgery is recommended if the cancer has not spread throughout the body.

Radiation therapy is another option for treatment and can be used in conjunction with other therapies. These include:

  • Chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy.
  • Hormone therapy.
  • Focal therapy.

Ultimately, you and your doctor will decide on the best approach to treatment depending on the severity of symptoms, stage of disease progression, physical health and other factors. Ensuring regular prostate checks is a great way to ensure early detection to prevent cancer progression and increase the odds of survival, so don’t skip this important part of your checkup!

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