Prostate cancer is a slow-growing cancer that starts in the cells of the prostate gland, a part of the male reproductive system. There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. A biopsy is the only way to formally diagnose prostate cancer, and treatment options range from active surveillance (careful monitoring) to surgery and radiation.
Inflammation of the prostate caused by a bacterial infection. Prostatitis can cause pain and urinary symptoms, such as increased frequency and/or urgency and difficulty urinating. These urinary symptoms overlap with symptoms of prostate cancer, but they are separate conditions. Tests, including urinalysis to check for bacteria, can help determine if prostatitis is causing the symptoms.
A walnut-size gland that is part of the male reproductive system and secretes a seminal fluid that’s a major part of semen. The prostate is located just below the bladder and surrounds the urethra, the tube from the bladder to the urethral opening in the penis. When cancer begins in the prostate, it is called prostate cancer.
A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is a blood test that measures a protein made by the prostate. Increased levels may indicate prostate cancer. Although, an abnormal PSA is just as likely to be due to a benign cause (such as prostatitis) as it is to be due to cancer. Similarly, men with prostate cancer can have a normal PSA. To make a prostate diagnosis, a biopsy needs to be done.
Carefully monitoring a cancer (often every six months) and only treating it with surgery or therapies if it begins to progress. Active surveillance is a common option for low-risk prostate cancers that are small and considered non-aggressive.
What causes prostate cancer is uncertain, but there are known risk factors, such as age or inherited genetic mutations. Roughly 80% of men are diagnosed after the age of 65. It develops more frequently in African Americans and Caribbean men of African ancestry. Having high levels of androgens (hormones) or being exposed to Agent Orange or occupational pesticides may also increase risk.
It’s unknown what may help prevent prostate cancer, but lifestyle factors that may be helpful include eating a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat and dairy and exercising regularly. Discuss screenings with a physician if you are over age 45, or after age 40 if you have a family history of prostate cancer or gene mutations linked to prostate cancer.
When prostate cancer is caught early, treatments can cure the disease. Also, many prostate cancers are considered non-aggressive and may never progress or cause symptoms. In these cases, careful monitoring of the tumor (active surveillance) for signs of progression may be recommended before considering surgery, radiation, and other therapies.
About 5% to 10% of prostate cancers are hereditary, including inherited gene mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, that are linked to other cancers. The chance that a prostate cancer is hereditary is increased if first-degree relatives have had prostate cancer.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Is Prostate Cancer? Updated August 18, 2020.
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Mahal BA, Butler S, Franco I, et al. Use of Active Surveillance or Watchful Waiting for Low-Risk Prostate Cancer and Management Trends Across Risk Groups in the United States, 2010-2015. JAMA. 2019;321(7):704-706. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.19941
American Cancer Society. Prostate Cancer Risk Factors. Updated June 9, 2020.
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American Cancer Society. Initial treatment of prostate cancer, by stage.
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