Prostate cancer is a cancer type that affects the prostate gland of males. Over 260,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.
Cancer cells accumulate in this walnut-shaped gland associated with seminal fluid production and the transportation of sperm. Though most prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas, it can present as a small cell carcinoma, neuroendocrine tumor, transitional cell carcinoma, or sarcoma.
Like most other cancers, it’s not always clear what causes any specific individual’s prostate cancer. Overall, prostate cancer occurs when the DNA of cells in the prostate gland mutate into cells that look to divide and grow endlessly. This growth causes the malignant cells to take nutrients from healthy cells, hurting the prostate’s function over time.
These malignant cells gather into a tumor. If this tumor gets large enough, it can break into the surrounding tissues via metastasis. This process allows prostate cancer to spread to other parts of the body, including the nearby lymph nodes and bloodstream.
Prostate cancer symptoms are not always obvious in the early stages. This is why early tests are important for catching prostate cancer.
However, advanced prostate cancer will display one or several symptoms such as:
- Trouble urinating or decreased force in the urine stream
- Blood visible in the urine or semen
- Erectile dysfunction
- Inexplicable weight loss or bone pain
Who Gets It
Most prostate cancers are discovered thanks to early screenings or detection from a healthcare professional. The most common screenings include the prostate-specific antigen blood test (PSA test). A PSA screening determines the presence of proteins made by the prostate, with a large amount in the blood indicating prostate cancer.
A prostate-specific membrane antigen PET test (PSMA PET) can also determine if a patient has prostate cancer or not. This radiation oncology test involves using a radioactive solution attached to a protein on cancer cells with too much prostate protein. This solution shows up in a PET scan, revealing any cancerous masses in the prostate.
Males are the only ones able to have prostate cancer due to the lack of the gland in the female body. There are also several risk factors associated with prostate cancer:
- Age: The risk increases with older age, most commonly at or above 50 years old.
- Race: In Black populations, prostate cancers tend to be more common and more advanced than in other populations.
- Family History: Blood relatives with a history of prostate cancer or breast cancer correlate with an increased chance of contracting prostate cancer.
- Lifestyle: Obesity, low-fiber diets, and similar lifestyle choices increase the risk of many cancer types, including prostate cancer.
How to Prevent
What Research Says
Research is ongoing to improve prostate cancer detection rates to help men catch this disease early.
Cancer care facilities currently explore prostate MRI and ultrasound technologies to find prostate cancer cells. These tests use these radiation methods with transrectal ultrasound (TRUS) to take more accurate prostate biopsies. Ideally, these procedures would allow for earlier detection of metastatic prostate cancer.
Many advanced facilities also use breakthroughs in machine learning to identify patterns in prostate cancer imaging and PSMA test results. Recognizing patterns that the human eye cannot mean that small amounts of cancer can be found earlier, preventing negative outcomes associated with advanced prostate cancer.
Machine learning is still experimental, so clinical trial testing is still ongoing.
A patient has some options available to prevent prostate cancer, most of which relate to lifestyle and medical choice:
- Choose a diet with fruits and vegetables
- Do your best to get your nutrients from whole foods over health supplements
- Maintain a healthy weight by exercising most days of the week
- Talk to your doctor about any known risk factors you have to see what specific options apply to you
Physicians have sought a cure for prostate cancer ever since a surgeon documented the first known case in 1853. The path proved challenging because it was often combined with urinary obstructions in those early decades. Initial treatments during the mid-1900s involved androgen ablation and medical castration which led to expanded trials.
By the 1960s, physicians noticed systemic problems related to hormone therapies. The subsequent two decades saw a shift in the approach to androgen-blocking treatments. Eventually, multimodal approaches incorporated surgical interventions, radiation, and cytotoxic chemotherapy with hormone therapies.
Researchers ultimately agreed that they need to develop ways to detect the cancer sooner. Earlier identification allowed for more successful treatment of a localized disease instead of waiting until it spread to the soft tissues and bones.
Risks / Side Effects
Risk and side effects related to prostate cancer treatment can vary. Men may experience urinary, erectile, or bowel dysfunction at various points during the treatment. Irritated and inflamed tissues can disrupt typical bodily functions and stress the blood vessels and nerves.
It is possible to manage some of the side effects to improve your quality of life during treatment. Speak with your doctor about any issues as soon as you notice them.
While some side effects might be temporary, it is possible to experience permanent damage from some treatments. Infertility is a strong possibility that may mean you need to discuss family planning options with your team.