What is Prostate Cancer?
The prostate is a small, walnut-sized organ that surrounds the urethra in front of the bladder just above the rectum. The prostate is not essential for life, but it’s important for reproduction. It supplies fluids that are necessary for sperm transit and survival for fertilization.
Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate grow in an uncontrolled, abnormal manner. This growth can invade nearby healthy prostate tissue over time, and potentially spread to other areas of the body.
Most prostate cancers are caused by a mistake in your genetic makeup, which usually occurs as a result of the normal aging process and life. About 9 percent of the time, prostate cancer is caused by a genetic abnormality inherited from your parents.
U.S. Prostate Cancer Statistics1, 2
About 1 man in 7 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime.
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer.
Most prostate cancers (92%) are found when the disease is confined to the prostate and nearby organs.
Prostate cancer can be a serious disease, but most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. In fact, more than 2.9 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today.
Detecting Prostate Cancer
Most men are not diagnosed based on prostate cancer symptoms. Instead, prostate cancer is often detected through the use of two types of screening tests:
- PSA test: A blood test that checks your levels of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), a protein that is normally made by the prostate gland. Increased PSA readings may suggest prostate cancer or other prostate health problems.
- Digital Rectal Examination (DRE): A test that allows your doctor to feel the prostate for abnormalities by inserting a gloved finger into the rectum.
Men should see their healthcare provider if they experience any of the following signs or symptoms:
- Persistent hip or back pain.
- Difficulty urinating.
- Painful or burning urination.
- Blood in the urine.
If one of the screening tests described above suggests that you might have prostate cancer, the following diagnostic tests may be conducted:
- Needle biopsy and pathologic analysis: Your urologist removes a small amount of tissue from the suspected prostate tumor and sends it to the lab for microscopic analysis. A needle biopsy samples only a small segment of your prostate; for some patients, additional tests may be appropriate to get more information about your prostate cancer and help make the best treatment choice.
- Imaging: In some cases, tests such as MRI, CT scan or bone scan may help your doctor get more information about the cancer (e.g. if the cancer has spread, if other tumors are present) .
Defining your health care team
Prostate cancer is best treated by a team of healthcare professionals, each with their own expertise and specific role in your treatment process.
Your healthcare team is your advocate and is available to answer questions you may have. Below is a list of some of the medical professionals you may encounter during your treatment.
- Primary Care Provider (PCP) – A doctor or advanced practice nurse who takes care of general medical issues in adults. Often serves as your first point of contact for medical issues and tracks your overall health throughout your treatment.
- Urologist – A doctor who specializes in management of diseases of the genitourinary system . Urologists perform prostate biopsies, and many are also surgeons who perform surgery to remove the prostate (i.e. prostatectomy). Urologists also typically manage patients on Active Surveillance and may administer hormone blockade treatments. Some urologists may also manage chemotherapy, although this is more commonly done by a medical oncologist.
- Radiation oncologist – A doctor who specializes in treating cancer patients who choose treatment with radiation.
- Medical oncologist – A doctor who specializes in treating cancer with chemotherapy; these doctors are responsible for treating men with advanced or metastatic prostate cancer who benefit from chemotherapy.
- Radiologist – A doctor who specializes in interpreting x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and other advanced imaging tests and provides recommendations to your treating doctor based on the results.
- Pathologist – A doctor who specializes in interpreting the results of biopsies and surgical specimens and provides recommendations to your treating doctor based on the results. These doctors are asked to help your treating doctors make medical decisions and recommendations.
- Physician Assistant (PA) – Supports the physician team; a PA will see patients in the clinic and/or help perform surgical procedures.
- Nurse practitioner/Nurse – Provides personalized care and quality of life education during your treatment.
- Psychiatrist/Psychologist – A doctor who specializes in understanding emotions and mental health. He/She can help you navigate emotional issues and challenges during your diagnosis and treatment.
- Family members/Loved ones – Your spouse, partner, family and/or friends play an important role in your treatment serving as support, advocates and companions.
Remember, YOU are the most important member of your healthcare team. Start out by getting to know the people who will be working with you and understanding their role in your care and treatment. Each prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment plan is unique. Empower yourself with information and ask questions to ensure you understand all your options before deciding how to manage your cancer.
Visit the Prostate Health Guide by Men’s Health Network to learn more about prostate cancer.
1. American Cancer Society – What are the key statistics about prostate cancer?
2. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) – Prostate Cancer: Statistics