What is Prostate Cancer?
Medically reviewed by Dr. Paul Song M.D
Advances in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of prostate cancer are being made on a regular basis. Yet in order for experts to make those advances, they need to better understand the disease. While there’s still much we don’t know about the disease, here’s some of what we do so you can get a start in understanding prostate cancer.
How Many Men Get Prostate Cancer?
An estimated 161,360 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2017, and about 26,730 men will die of the disease. It is the second most common cancer among men in the United States, and it most often develops (about 60% of the time) in men aged 65 and older. About 1 man in 7 will receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer during his lifetime.
What Are a Man’s Chances of Dying from Prostate Cancer?
About 1 man in 39 will die of prostate cancer. However, the majority of men who are diagnosed with the disease do not die from it. Two major reasons for this fact are that the disease is usually diagnosed later in life, and that the disease progresses slowly in most cases.
The five-year survival rate is often used when looking at the statistics for cancer. This rate is the percentage of people who live at least 5 years after they have been diagnosed with cancer. A more accurate figure is the relative survival rate, in which rates compare men with prostate cancer to men in the general population.
For prostate cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is nearly 100 percent, which means that men with the disease are, on average, about 100 percent as likely as men without the disease to live for at least five years after their diagnosis. The 10-year relative survival rate is 98 percent, and for 15 years, it is 95 percent.
Is It Possible to Prevent Prostate Cancer?
Although there is no magic pills or silver bullets that can prevent prostate cancer, there are lifestyle modifications men can take to reduce their risk of developing the disease. These prevention tips are discussed in detail in “Preventing Prostate Cancer.”
Understanding Prostate Cancer Causes
Experts have identified a number of risk factors for both slow-growing and aggressive prostate cancers, but the exact underlying causes of the disease are not yet known. Similar to other types of cancer, prostate cancer is believed to develop in two steps. First, specific genes that control cell division and multiplication are altered or damaged by viruses, environmental factors, or other means. This results in abnormal cells, which then may multiply out of control and ultimately result in a malignant tumor.
Is There More Than One Type of Prostate Cancer?
Most people think there’s only type of prostate cancer, and that’s probably because the vast majority of cases (about 90%) are one type called acinar adenocarcinoma. That means the cancer develops from the gland cells, which are the ones that produce the fluid that is added to the semen. Many of these cancers grow slowly and are less likely to spread.
The remaining 10 percent of prostate cancers can be one of the following types:
- Carcinoid of the prostate. This very rare type of prostate cancer seems to grow slowly in general but has been known to spread rapidly. It starts from cells of the neuroendocrine system.
- Ductal adenocarcinoma: Cancer that develops in the ducts of the prostate. This type tends to grow and spread more rapidly than acinar adenocarcinoma.
- Sarcoma and sarcomatoid cancers. The most common type of prostate sarcoma is leiomyosarcoma. This type of prostate cancer develops in muscle cells and usually grows quickly. Sarcomatoid cancers have a combination of sarcoma and adenocarcinoma cells.
- Small cell cancer. Men who have small cell prostate cancer may not have an elevated PSA level, so it can be difficult to detect early. It is a type of neuroendocrine tumor and tends to grow and spread more quickly than acinar adenocarcinoma.
- Squamous cell cancer: This type starts from the flat cells that cover the prostate. Squamous cell prostate cancer tends to grow and advance more quickly than acinar adenocarcinoma.
- Transitional cell: Cancer that starts in the cells that line the urethra, which passes through the prostate, or in the bladder and then spread into the prostate.
A biopsy is necessary to identify the type of prostate cancer a man has. Men who have one of these more rare types of prostate cancer typically have surgery to remove the prostate because they tend to be more aggressive.