Prostate Cancer: Are You At Risk?
Did you know that prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in men?
The good news is that 95% of all prostate cancers are found while the cancer is confined to the prostate and immediately adjacent areas. With advanced medical care, the prognosis for these localized cancers is excellent. Five-year survival rates can be as high as 99%. Read on to learn about localized prostate cancer — a disease that directly or indirectly touches almost everyone.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located between the bladder and the rectum in men. It surrounds the upper part of the urethra, which is the tube that allows urine and semen to exit the body through the penis. The prostate produces seminal fluid — the fluid that mixes with sperm from the testicles and is released during ejaculation.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is a disease caused by the uncontrolled division of prostate cells.
Healthy cells frequently divide and produce new cells for specific reasons – for example, to replace aging cells or to repair an injury. In prostate cancer, abnormal changes to DNA within prostate cells causes cells to divide with no useful purpose. Repeated, uncontrolled division of those cells results in the formation of a tumor.
As the cells continue to divide, the tumor grows larger. Although still localized, the growing tumor can cause pain and damage to nearby nerves, muscles, blood vessels, or organs. If the cancer is not treated, cancerous cells can break away from the primary tumor (called “metastasis”). The cells travel to other parts of the body where they continue to form tumors.
What causes prostate cancer?
Scientists don’t yet know the underlying cause (or causes) of prostate cancer. A partial exception to this is when a man has two or more close male relatives (such as a father or brother) with the disease. These men are likely to have inherited a mutation linked to prostate cancer.
In most cases, however, the mutation to the DNA of prostate cells begins during a man’s lifetime. Certain factors may increase a man’s risk of developing a mutation, although why cancer will develop in some – but not all – men who have one or more of those risk factors is unknown. Besides having a heritable mutation as described above, risk factors are believed to include:
- Age over 50 years. Prostate cancer is uncommon, but possible, in younger men.
- High-fat diets. Men who eat high-fat diets may be more likely to develop prostate cancer.
- Smoking. Smoking may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. The risk may decrease after quitting.
- Hormonal factors. The exact connection between hormones and prostate cancer is unknown but there may be a link.
- Some studies have shown that exposure to certain chemicals, inflammation of the prostate, sexually transmitted diseases, or having had a vasectomy may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Most prostate cancers are diagnosed in the early stages before men have symptoms. If the cancer is not diagnosed in the very early stages, symptoms may include:
- difficulty urinating
- a weak stream of urine
- needing to urinate frequently
- pain or burning during urination
How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
Typically, prostate cancer is first discovered through a screening exam before any symptoms are present. The decision to be screened is based on individual factors, but screening is often recommended for men between ages 55 and 69. Men at higher risk for prostate cancer should begin screening as early as 40 or 45.
Screening includes a digital rectal exam (DRE), and a blood test to measure the level of Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA). High levels of PSA or levels that increase significantly from one blood test to the next indicate a possibility of prostate cancer. Because changes in PSA can be informative, it is important for men to keep track of their previous test results.
PSA and DRE tests cannot be used to diagnose prostate cancer, but the results indicate if a biopsy should be performed. If a biopsy is needed the specimens will be studied to provide a number known as the Gleason score. The Gleason score is a standard classification that indicates how aggressive the cancer is likely to be.
What are the initial treatments for prostate cancer?
Active Surveillance: The doctor regularly monitors the prostate. Treatment begins if or when the tumor shows signs of growth. Because many prostate cancers grow very slowly, this can be a reasonable option for some men.
Radical Prostatectomy: Surgical removal of the prostate. This can be done either through an open incision or laparoscopically, using robot-assisted surgical tools inserted through small incisions. After surgery, the patient should expect some degree of urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. These conditions are expected to improve over time.
Radiation: There are several different methods of radiation, but one goal of each is to pinpoint the location of the cancer. This helps to minimize damage to surrounding areas. Side effects of radiation therapy can include temporary alterations in bowel movements, bladder discomfort, and after years have passed, some degree of erectile dysfunction.
Hormone Therapy: If the cancer has spread beyond the prostate to a neighboring structure, hormone therapy might be given in addition to radiation.
What can I do to prevent prostate cancer from developing?
There are no specific guidelines for preventing prostate cancer from developing.
A lifestyle that supports good cardiovascular health may be the best prevention currently available for prostate cancer as well as for many other diseases. Not smoking, getting regular exercise, not sitting for prolonged periods, having good sleep habits, maintaining an appropriate weight, and eating a healthy diet are good guidelines for everyone!
How can Halza help?
The Halza app allows you to securely store, track and share your medical data with your doctors and loved ones. Your digital rectum exams (DRE), prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test results, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight are all stored in one place, always with you and easily accessible on your mobile. You can set up medical appointment and medication reminders and receive support from your loved ones.
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