Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, after skin cancer, but can be treated successfully. Knowing what to do or expect when you have prostate cancer can go a long way in helping you cope with it.
Here are answers to frequently asked questions about prostate cancer:
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What is prostate cancer?
It's a type of cancer that attacks the prostate gland, a part of the male reproductive system that helps produce sperm.
Most prostate cancers are found through a digital rectal exam (DRE) or a blood test in patients who aren’t experiencing symptoms.
Symptoms may include blood in your urine or semen, painful ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and urinary retention - a condition where you cannot empty all the urine in your bladder.
How common is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is the most prevalent non-skin cancer among men in the United States. You're more likely to develop prostate cancer than colon, melanoma, stomach, and kidney cancers combined¹.
It is also estimated that one in eight men are likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
Can prostate cancer affect women?
Women don't have a prostate gland but do have the Skene's glands, which are found on the front part of the vagina. There are some similarities with the male prostate gland, which explains the growing prevalence² of the term female prostate.
But the chances of prostate cancer in women are low: cancer of the Skene's glands makes up 0.003%³ of the cancers affecting the female genital urinary tract.
So, women may contract a female equivalent of prostate cancer, but it is very rare.
What happens when prostate cancer metastasizes?
Prostate cancer may spread to the surrounding organs, such as the bladder, or travel to the bones or other organs via the lymphatic system or bloodstream.
Spreading cancer can cause intense pain in parts of the body, and if it finds its way into the bones, it may result in broken bones⁴.
If prostate cancer metastasizes, it can still respond positively to treatment. Learn more about treatment options for the different stages of prostate cancer.
Can prostate cancer be prevented?
You can also help reduce your risk by making positive lifestyle changes. For example, you may need to consume fewer calories and exercise more to maintain a healthy body weight since obesity increases the risk of developing prostate cancer.
Do prostate massages help prevent cancer?
Yes. A prostate massage once a month⁵ can be helpful if you have a healthy and functional prostate.
Massaging the prostate stimulates it on the outside against the perineum and on the inside through your rectum. Rather than having it done by a stranger, some people prefer to perform the prostate massage themselves using vibrating prostate massagers.
If you have a swollen prostate, a prostate massage once a week can help reduce the swelling and improve your urinary function and sexual performance.
Can fish oil prevent prostate cancer?
While the Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil may have some health benefits because of their anti-inflammatory properties, researchers⁶ have found that too much of them may increase the risk of prostate cancer.
Even the marine sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, were found to be dangerous to men at risk of prostate cancer.
What causes prostate cancer?
Changes in the DNA of a normal prostate cell may result in prostate cancer, though researchers aren't sure⁷ what initiates the change.
However, you can inherit DNA changes or mutations from your parents, or you may acquire them. In other words, you may inherit prostate cancer or develop it in the course of your life.
Are some men more likely to develop prostate cancer compared to others?
Some men are more likely to develop prostate cancer compared to others based on a variety of factors:
About 6 out of 10 men⁸ diagnosed with prostate cancer are over the age of 65. As you grow older, the chances of prostate cancer also increase.
Black men are more likely to develop the disease⁹ and twice more likely to die from it¹⁰.
57% of all prostate cancer patients¹¹ develop it due to genetic factors. If your parents, or their parents, have a history of prostate cancer, you're more likely to have it.
If you're obese, you have a higher risk of prostate cancer than those with a healthier weight, though studies have mixed results. Also, prostate cancer is likely to be more aggressive in obese people.
How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
A PSA test is used to identify men who may be at risk of developing prostate cancer.
If required, your doctor may perform further tests, such as ultrasound imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), blood tests, urine tests, biopsies, and genetic tests.
What is a PSA test?
It's a blood test that measures a man's prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level, which often rises when prostate cancer develops.
A doctor often accompanies this test with a digital rectal exam (DRE), which involves the doctor inserting their finger into the rectum to feel for any abnormalities on the prostate surface.
The PSA test is the starting place for prostate cancer screening, but a rise in PSA doesn't necessarily mean you have prostate cancer. It may be the result of several non-cancerous conditions, such as infections or inflammations.
Likewise, a low PSA isn't a guarantee that you're prostate-cancer-free.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Most men will experience few symptoms at the early stages of prostate cancer. It's the reason you should undergo regular screening tests, such as PSA and DRE, even when you haven't experienced any symptoms.
Common symptoms include the following:
Burning pain when passing urine
Problems emptying the bladder
Blood in semen or urine
Interruption in urine flow, or weak flow
The need to urinate often, particularly at night
Painful ejaculation, or erectile dysfunction
Stiffness or pain in the lower back, upper thighs, or hips
How is prostate cancer detected if there are no symptoms?
You can only be sure of your prostate cancer status by undergoing screening using two tests: PSA and DRE.
Is prostate cancer similar for every person?
Prostate cancer varies from one man to another, displaying different symptoms, progression patterns, and behavior.
It can be quite aggressive in some men by spreading outside the prostate and requiring urgent care.
Others experience the indolent type: it doesn't spread to other areas and doesn't pose a serious danger to men's health.
Some do not display any symptoms at all.
How is prostate cancer treated?
Many treatment options are available for prostate cancer patients, depending on the cancer’s stage, type, and location. Other factors determining the kind of treatment to give include age and general health.
The treatment options for prostate cancer include:
Active surveillance of the cancers that don't need intervention
Your doctor will help determine the proper treatment for you after careful analysis. Your doctor may combine the treatments if they determine that one isn't effective enough.
Generally, your doctor can treat most of the complications arising from prostate cancer and its treatments.
What kind of doctor should I see if I’m diagnosed with prostate cancer?
It's recommended you consult with the three types of prostate cancer specialists:
You would likely see a urologist first since they will make the diagnosis and treatment plan - which may not include surgery.
Is prostate cancer curable?
The curability of prostate cancer depends on many factors, including the stage at which it's diagnosed.
Generally, the earlier it's discovered, the more the possibility of treating and curing it completely.
The cure rate of prostate cancer is always nearly 100% because most of the cases are detected in the local and regional stages.
When detected in such stages, the affected men will be disease-free in the next five years.
Which prostate cancer treatment has the longest recovery time? Prostatectomy – the surgery to remove the tumorous prostate – will keep you in hospital for about two days¹².
Your doctor can then allow you to return home, but with a catheter draining urine for up to two weeks. You will need to limit physical activity for the next few months after the surgery.
Other treatments take a relatively shorter time.
Does prostate cancer cause erectile dysfunction?
Prostate cancer, or its treatments, may cause erectile dysfunction¹³.
Treatments such as radiation, hormone treatment, and surgery may leave prostate cancer patients unable to achieve an erection.
The good news is that this condition can be treated using medication, surgery, and vacuum constriction devices¹⁴.
Can urinary incontinence be treated?
Prostate cancer, or its treatment, may also result in urinary incontinence.
Treating incontinence depends on its severity and the likelihood of your prostate cancer improving over time.
Treatment options include the use of catheters to pass urine, medications, and surgery.
Prostate Cancer FAQs | Prostate Cancer Foundation
Can Women Get Prostate Cancer? | BlackDoctor
Bone Metastasis | ZERO - The End of Prostate Cancer
Reduce Your Risks for Prostate Cancer with Prostate Massage | Sperling Prostate Center
What Causes Prostate Cancer? | American Cancer Society
Prostate Cancer FAQs | Prostate Cancer Foundation
FAQs About Prostate Cancer | Stony Brook Cancer Center
Prostate cancer faqs | Prostate Cancer Foundation
Prostate Cancer FAQs | Prostate Cancer Foundation
FAQs About Prostate Cancer | Carle Cancer Institute Normal
Erectile Dysfunction | Prostate Cancer Foundation
Erectile Dysfunction After Prostate Cancer | Johns Hopkins Medicine
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