Know the Signs of Prostate Cancer: It's More Common Than You Think
Did you know that about one of every five men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer? The National Cancer Institute estimates that 238,590 new cases of prostate cancer will occur in 2013 and 29,720 men will die of the disease. If you're shocked by those stark statistics, you aren't alone. While prostate cancer awareness has risen over recent years, many still don't realize just how common the disease is, nor are they aware of the warning signs and symptoms of prostate cancer. This is an unfortunate situation, since knowing the symptoms of this potentially deadly disease and being screened for it regularly save lives.
What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer forms in the tissues of the prostate gland, which is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate is located just below the bladder and surrounds the urethra. Its primary function is the production of ejaculatory fluid, which aids in protecting sperm cells and enabling proper motility.
Age is the most important risk factor for the development of prostate cancer, since the disease is most likely to occur in men over 50. Other risk factors include a family history of prostate cancer, African-American heritage and a high fat diet.
Signs and Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
In its early stages, prostate cancer is often a silent disease, producing no noticeable symptoms. For that reason, medical professionals stress the importance of routine prostate health screenings, done annually in all men over age 40, to increase the odds of early detection. When symptoms of prostate cancer are present, they can include:
- Difficulty passing urine
- Frequent, intense urges to urinate, especially at night
- Weak urine stream
- Painful urination
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Painful ejaculation
- Aching in the lower back, pelvis or hips
Individuals affected by prostate cancer may experience any combination of the above symptoms, with some men presenting just one or two, while others may experience several or all of them. Since these symptoms can occur with several other prostate disorders and health conditions, including prostate infections or enlargement, urinary tract infections or several STDs, experiencing them does not necessarily mean that cancer is present. However, it does mean that it might be, making it essential to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Prostate cancer is, in the vast majority of cases, able to be treated very successfully, but the best chance of effective treatment comes with early detection and intervention.
How Does One Detect Prostate Cancer?
PSA testing is the standard for routine prostate health screening and the detection of prostate cancer. PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, is an antigen produced by the prostate in small amounts as a component of ejaculatory fluid. When the prostate is healthy, very little PSA is released into the bloodstream, while prostate problems, including cancer, cause greater than normal amounts o be released. PSA level testing, a simple blood test, measures the amount of PSA present in the bloodstream to detect levels that may be cause for further investigation of prostate health.
Digital rectal examinations are another common means of detecting prostate problems, including prostate cancer. Since the prostate gland is located just in front of the rectum, health care professionals can often detect prostate abnormalities by inserting a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum and feeling the prostate gland through its wall, checking for enlargement, nodules, tumors or other irregularities.
If either of these two common screening methods reveals changes that may indicate prostate cancer, a biopsy is generally the next step. By taking a sample of prostate tissues and examining them for cancer cells, doctors can definitely diagnose prostate cancer or put a patient's mind at ease by ruling it out.
Prostate cancer is very treatable, with a five year survival rate of more than 99 percent. In fact, since many tumors never develop to life-threatening proportions, doctors often opt to do nothing but observe in cases of slow growing prostate cancers, a strategy called active surveillance. Treatment options in aggressive cancers include medications, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, among others.
Charts were compiled from data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program of the National Cancer Institute.