Prostate cancer is both widespread and potentially deadly. The good news is that early diagnosis is possible and therefore a complete recovery is often achievable.
The prostate gland is about the size of a walnut. It is part of the male reproductive system, located just below the bladder and surrounding the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder).
The function of the prostate gland is to produce the seminal fluid that nourishes and carries sperm.
To understand the risks, early symptoms, and signs of prostate cancer, you should know that prostate cancer can act in two very different ways.
Cancer may develop in the prostate, grow slowly, and remain there. If so, it presents little risk and can be removed entirely from the body. There may be no signs of cancer at this stage, although an examination by your doctor could reveal it.
Cancer may be more aggressive, developing first in your prostate, then spreading to nearby organs such as the bladder, and then metastasizing throughout the body, traveling through the bones or the lymphatic system and becoming a potentially fatal disease.
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Although prostate cancer may cause no signs or symptoms in its early stages (or if it remains confined to the prostate), the more advanced cancer does have warning signs. These include:
Blood in the urine
Blood in the semen
Bone pain in hips, lower back, or pelvis
Losing weight without trying
Five of these symptoms are found in the urinary system, where the prostate gland is located. They can be quite specific:
Difficulty starting to urinate
Difficulty maintaining a steady urine stream
Excessive urination at night
Frequency of urination
Leaking urine (urinary incontinence)
Prostate cancer can cause sexual dysfunction, such as difficulty getting or maintaining an erection or painful ejaculation.
Of course, men tend to experience more sexual dysfunction as they get older because their hormone levels change. But don't assume on your own that problems with erection are because of age.
As a common symptom of prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction needs to be checked with your doctor.
In addition to knowing how to recognize the early warning signs of prostate cancer, it’s important to understand if you are more at risk of developing the disease than other men.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes¹ these factors that may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer:
A man's risk of prostate cancer increases with age, becoming most common after age 50. With age, the incidence of prostate cancer steadily rises, with the highest risks in men aged 65 and older.
African American men are at greater risk of prostate cancer than men of other races for reasons not yet understood.
Also, when an African American man does develop prostate cancer, it is more likely to be the aggressive or advanced kind.
Prostate cancer risk seems to have a genetic component, so that if a blood relative - a father, brother, or son - has been diagnosed, you may be at greater risk of the disease.
Risk also may be increased if a man's family has a history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer—or a strong family history of breast cancer.
People who are overweight seem to have a higher risk of prostate cancer and, if they are diagnosed, it is more likely to be the aggressive type and more likely to return after initial treatment.
Obesity is reported to reduce² the body's level of prostate-surface antigen (PSA), which may mean obese men are less frequently diagnosed with prostate cancer by the test for elevated PSA levels.
Knowledge about prostate cancer can save your life and the lives of your loved ones.
As with other cancers, the earlier prostate cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of a complete cure and avoiding advanced stages of the disease.
Although most prostate cancer is detected in routine examinations, that presents a greater risk³ of late diagnosis.
The best protection is to be aware of the signs and symptoms in their early stages and check them with a doctor.
You cannot know for sure whether you have prostate cancer because none of the common symptoms are exclusive to that cancer. A more definite diagnosis requires a doctor to do tests.
Who Is at Risk for Prostate Cancer? | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Prostate Cancer: Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging | American Cancer Society