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Prostate cancer treatment does not need to be scary, but it can be confusing. It is important to learn everything you can about what prostate cancer is, the risk factors, and treatment options so that you can be an active participant in your treatment decision making. This is essential because treatment in early stages of prostate cancer can lead to a cure and treatment in later stages can prolong and improve your quality of life.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is a disease that develops within the prostate gland and generally involves the abnormal development and growth of previously normal prostate cells. Initially the abnormal cells and growth are confined to the prostate, but as the cancer grows can extend to areas around the prostate like the bladder or to more distant sites like bone.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that is part of the male reproductive system. The gland normally secretes prostatic fluid, which carries sperm and helps sperm move through your genitourinary tract.
Prostate cancer symptoms
Because prostate cancer is usually a slow-growing tumor, symptoms are often absent early in the disease, sometimes for many years. Symptoms will sometimes indicate a prostate problem and are similar to other prostate diseases such as BPH, or benign prostatic hypertrophy (an enlargement of the prostate that occurs as men get older). Symptoms of prostate cancer may include:
- Frequent urination, particularly at night
- Difficulty starting urination or feeling like you have to concentrate tremendously to go
- Decreased urinary stream
- Pain or burning during urination
- Difficulty in obtaining or maintaining an erection
- Pain during sex or while ejaculating
- Hematuria or hematospermia (blood in the urine or in semen)
- Chronic or recurring pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs
Am I at risk for prostate cancer?
While we do not really know what causes prostate cancer, we do know many of the risk factors that put you at higher risk. These include:
- Age: Prostate cancer is more common in men over the age above 50. The American Cancer Society recommends that men discuss the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening with their doctor so that they can make the best-informed decision about whether or not to be screened.
- Family history: You approximately double your risk of prostate cancer if your father or brother already developed prostate cancer.
- Race: Prostate cancer is more common in African-American men than in other men. Additionally, African-American men have an earlier age of onset compared to other groups.
- Diet and dietary factors: A heavy diet of foods high in animal fat (e.g., red meat) may increase risk for prostate cancer, while a diet with more fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk for prostate cancer.
- Alcohol: While moderate drinking does not seem to increase risk of prostate cancer, heavy drinking has shown an increased risk of developing prostate cancer in some studies.
- Coffee: Interestingly, a long-term study of health professionals found that people who drank more coffee were less likely to die from prostate cancer.
- Physical activity: In studies, men who were most active were less likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive prostate cancers. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommends 30 minutes of exercise daily on most days of the week.
Prostate cancer treatment
You and your doctor will discuss your prostate cancer treatment after a complete review of your history, symptoms, and completion of the diagnostic workup. Your doctor will consider all of the following before recommending a treatment for you:
- Your age
- Your current health status
- Other medical conditions that may be impacted
- Size, location, and severity of your prostate cancer
- Your personal wishes related to potential complications and side effects
Treatment options will depend on the stage and severity of your cancer. Some of the treatment options for initial cancers include:
- Watchful waiting or active surveillance
- Prostatectomy or surgical removal of the prostate
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
Some of the prostate cancer treatment options for more advanced prostate cancer include:
Knowing your risks, symptoms, and prostate cancer treatment options will allow you to have a better discussion and make a make a more informed decision about your prostate cancer.
Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.
American Cancer Society. Prostate Cancer. Accessed July 12, 2013.
Giovannucci EL et al. A prospective study of physical activity and incident and fatal prostate cancer. Arch Intern Med 2005; 165(9):1005.
Gong Z et al. Alcohol consumption, finasteride, and prostate cancer risk: results from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial. Cancer 2009; 115(16):3661
Wilson KM et al. Coffee consumption and prostate cancer risk and progression in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. J Natl Cancer Inst 2011; 103(11):876.