Things to know
Prostate cancer means that cancer cells form in the tissues of the prostate. It is the most common cancer in American men after skin cancer.
Prostate cancer tends to grow slowly compared with most other cancers. Cell changes may begin 10, 20, or even 30 years before a tumor gets big enough to cause symptoms. Eventually, cancer cells may spread (metastasize) throughout the body. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may already be advanced.
By age 50, very few men have symptoms of prostate cancer, yet some precancerous or cancer cells may be present. More than half of all American men have some cancer in their prostate glands by the age of 80. Most of these cancers never pose a problem. They may never cause symptoms or become a serious threat to health.
Most men with prostate cancer do not die from this disease.
- About 16 percent of American men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives.
- About 3 percent of American men will die of prostate cancer.
"When I first learned I might have a prostate problem, I was afraid it was cancer."
The symptoms of prostate cancer can be similar to the symptoms of BPH.
Prostate Cancer Symptoms
- Trouble passing urine
- Frequent urge to pass urine, especially at night
- Weak or interrupted urine stream
- Pain or burning when passing urine
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Painful ejaculation
- Nagging pain in the back, hips, or pelvis
Prostate cancer can spread to the lymph nodes of the pelvis. Or it may spread throughout the body. It tends to spread to the bones. So bone pain, especially in the back, can be a symptom of advanced prostate cancer.
Some risk factors have been linked to prostate cancer. A risk factor is something that can raise your chance of developing a disease. Having one or more risk factors doesn't mean that you will get prostate cancer. It just means that your risk of the disease is greater.
- Age. Men who are 50 or older have a higher risk of prostate cancer.
- Race. African-American men have the highest risk of prostate cancer—the disease tends to start at younger ages and grows faster than in men of other races. After African-American men, prostate cancer is most common among white men, followed by Hispanic and Native American men. Asian-American men have the lowest rates of prostate cancer.
- Family history. Men whose fathers or brothers have had prostate cancer have a 2 to 3 times higher risk of prostate cancer than men who do not have a family history of the disease. A man who has 3 immediate family members with prostate cancer has about 10 times the risk of a man who does not have a family history of prostate cancer. The younger a man's relatives are when they have prostate cancer, the greater his risk for developing the disease. Prostate cancer risk also appears to be slightly higher for men from families with a history of breast cancer.
- Diet. The risk of prostate cancer may be higher for men who eat high-fat diets.
Can prostate cancer be prevented?
Large research studies are looking at how prostate cancer can be prevented. Studies have shown that 5-alpha reductase inhibitors finasteride and dutasteride can lower the risk of developing prostate cancer, but whether they can decrease the risk of dying of prostate cancer is still unclear.
To find out more, see the For More Information section.
Prostate Cancer Screening
Screening means testing for cancer before you have any symptoms. A screening test may help find cancer at an early stage, when it is less likely to have spread and may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have started to spread.
The most useful screening tests are those that have been proven to lower a person's risk of dying from cancer. Doctors do not yet know whether prostate cancer screening lowers the risk of dying from prostate cancer. Therefore, large research studies, with thousands of men, are now going on to study prostate cancer screening. The National Cancer Institute is studying the combination of PSA testing and DRE as a way to get more accurate results.
Although some people feel it is best to treat any cancer that is found, including cancers found through screening, prostate cancer treatment can cause serious and sometimes permanent side effects. Some doctors are concerned that many men whose cancer is detected by screening are being treated—and experiencing side effects—unnecessarily. Talk with your doctor about your risk of prostate cancer and your need for screening tests.
Talk with your doctor about your risk of prostate cancer and your need for screening tests.