Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer among men in the United States. Only skin cancer is more common. Every year more than 248,900 American men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 34,000 die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a gland that is part of the male reproductive system. A healthy prostate is roughly the size of a walnut, and it helps produce seminal fluid-the fluid in which sperm are carried out of the body as part of semen. The prostate gland encircles the urethra, the tube that carries urine away from the bladder.
What is prostate cancer?
As men age, they are at greater risk for developing prostate problems. The growth of prostate cells is relatively common in men over age 50. While many of these growths are benign (non-cancerous), many others are malignant (cancerous).
Prostate cancer is typically slow-growing, but if left untreated it can spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal. It’s crucial to find prostate cancer early and treat it before it has a chance to spread.
Causes and Risk Factors
Scientists are still trying to determine what causes prostate cancer. What they do know is that there are probably many reasons the disease occurs-and that by examining common risk factors, they can better determine who is likeliest to develop it. These risk factors include:
- Age: The diagnosis of prostate cancer is rare in men younger than 40. As men age, they are increasingly more likely to develop it. 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed in their lifetimes.
- Family history: If your father, grandfather, brother, son or other closely related family member has had prostate cancer, you are at an increased risk yourself.
- Race: African-American men are 60% more likely to develop prostate cancer than Caucasian or Hispanic men. The disease is rarer among Asian-American and American Indian men.
- Diet: Some studies suggest that men with diets high in fat may be at higher risk. Other research suggests that nutritional factors, like greater intake of vitamin D, lycopene and selenium, may lower a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
By the time prostate cancer symptoms usually, appear, the cancer is likely in a later stage, which is why early detection is so critical. The disease needs to be found and cured before symptoms develop, which is why prostate cancer screenings are recommended starting at age 40.
Men with early-stage prostate cancer may not have symptoms at all. In fact, it could be 10 years before symptoms become noticeable. Some older men may never even know that they have prostate cancer since it may have not progressed or caused symptoms in their lifetime. And other forms of the disease may be small and grow so slowly that they don’t require treatment at all.
Some symptoms of prostate cancer may include:
- Difficulty urinating and/or difficulty starting and stopping urine flow
- Needing to urinate frequently, especially at night
- Pain or burning during urination
- Dull lower pelvic pain
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Painful ejaculation
- Pain in the lower back, hips or thighs