What Is It?
Second to skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men; approximately 300,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. The exact cause of prostate cancer is unknown. According to the American Cancer Society, an average American man has a one in six chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime.
Located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum, the prostate is a walnut sized gland that is part of the male reproductive system. The urethra, which is the tube that urine flows through, runs through the center of the prostate gland. The prostate gland produces prostatic fluid which, when mixed with sperm, produces semen.
Prostate cancer occurs when the prostate gland develops malignant cells. "Localized" prostate cancer is when the cancer remains inside the prostate. However, it is possible for the cancer to grow to surrounding tissue, or spread (metastasize) to the lymph nodes or bone. As with many forms of cancer, early detection provides the greatest chance of cure. For this reason, it is important for all men over the age of 50 (age 40 if you are African American or have a family history) to have regularly scheduled annual screening exams which include a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE).
Although the exact cause of prostate cancer is unknown, research has shown that men with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop prostate cancer. Having a risk factor doesn't mean that you will get prostate cancer, but rather you are at greater risk of developing the disease.
Age: The chance of acquiring prostate cancer increases with age. Men over the age of 45 have a higher risk than younger men.
Family History: Prostate cancer risk is approximately 2 to 3 times greater for men whose fathers or brothers have had the disease. Prostate cancer risk also appears to be slightly higher for men whose mothers or sisters have had breast cancer.
Race: Prostate cancer is more common in African American men than in Caucasians or Hispanics. It is less common in Asian and American Indian men.
Diet: Some studies suggest that men who eat a diet high in animal fat or red meat may be at increased risk for prostate cancer. Men who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may have a lower risk.
"What you need to know about Prostate Cancer". National Institute of Health, 2005.
"Understanding Prostate Changes". National Institute of Health, 2004.
Early detection is the key to curing prostate cancer. Men should have a yearly prostate cancer screening, including a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE). Since the risk of developing prostate cancer before age 50 is low, many experts recommend the average man begin annual prostate cancer screenings at age 50. African-American men and men with a family history of the disease should begin testing at age 40.
A PSA blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE) are the two standard screening tests for prostate cancer. PSA is an enzyme produced by the prostate. It is normal to have small amounts of this enzyme in the bloodstream, so an elevated PSA alone does not necessarily indicate cancer. It may indicate non-cancerous conditions such as prostate inflammation, infection, or trauma. Often the DRE does not reveal any abnormalities that the doctor can feel. For this reason, the PSA blood test together with the DRE is important for early detection.
A doctor will evaluate these prostate cancer screening tests and may recommend a biopsy. The vast majority of physicians use an ultrasound guided technique to remove several small pieces of prostate tissue for microscopic examination. This is usually an office procedure performed under local anesthesia.