Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer forms in the tissue of the prostate, a gland of the male reproductive system located underneath the bladder and in front of the rectum. Typically, prostate tumors grow to a detectable size over a long period of time, and prostate cancer metastasizes (spreads) at a very slow rate. However, when prostate cancer metastasizes, it typically affects the lungs, liver and brain. Prostate cancer is typically diagnosed in older males, and it is the second most frequent form of cancer affecting males1.

What are the different types of prostate cancer?

There are several types of prostate cancer that affect the different cells of this gland. Read more about the types of prostate cancer at:

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Not everyone with prostate cancer will show symptoms. However, urinary or sexual dysfunctions may indicate the presence of prostate cancer. Some other common symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Difficulty starting urination or holding back urine
  • Weak, interrupted flow of urine
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips or upper thigh

How is prostate cancer diagnosed?

Physical exams are inspections of the body for abnormal masses. Typically, a physical exam for prostate cancer will include a digital rectal exam in which the doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for abnormalities.

Blood tests involve taking blood samples from a patient to detect the presence of “prostate specific antigens” (PSA). An abnormal PSA blood test result may indicate the presence of prostate cancer.

Imaging tests use x-rays, magnets, sound waves or radioactive chemicals to create pictures of the inside of the body. For prostate cancer, these tests may include ultrasounds, bone scans, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans or ProstaScintTM scans, all of which are particularly efficient at detecting if prostate cancer has spread to other organs.

Biopsies are the removal of a small portion of the prostate for examination under the microscope to identify any sign of prostate cancer.

Cystoscopy, also known as a bladder scope, involves putting a tube into the urethra through the opening at the end of the penis. This allows the doctor to inspect the urethra and bladder for abnormal growths that indicate the presence of prostate cancer.

What are the different stages of prostate cancer?

The most widely used staging system for prostate cancer is the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM system.

The TNM system for prostate cancer is based on 5 key pieces of information:

  • T describes the extent of the primary tumor
  • N describes whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • M describes the absence or presence of distant metastasis
  • The PSA level at the time of diagnosis
  • The Gleason score, based on the prostate biopsy (or surgery)

What are the treatments for prostate cancer?

This prostate cancer treatment information does not outline the particular treatment(s) a patient will receive. Rather, it provides general information about the typical treatments for this type of cancer.

Primary treatment options:

  • Surgery for prostate cancer is most commonly a radical prostatectomy. In this surgical operation, the surgeon removes the prostate gland and its surrounding tissue. Surgery is a common treatment choice if the prostate cancer has not metastasized.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill prostate cancer cells. External radiation therapy is commonly used as the initial treatment for prostate cancer that has not metastasized. While internal radiation therapy is usually only used to treat slow-growing, early stage cases of prostate cancer.
  • Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. Chemotherapy is sometimes used if prostate cancer spreads from the prostate gland to other locations and hormone therapy is not working.

Secondary treatment options:

  • Active Surveillance means closely monitoring the cancer’s behavior with prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests, digital rectal exams (DREs), and ultrasounds to identify if more intensive treatments are needed. It is employed in many instances as a treatment for prostate cancer in older males with other serious, complicating health issues.
  • Hormone therapy, also called androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) or androgen suppression therapy, targets Androgen hormones that stimulate prostate cancer cell growth. By suppressing the levels of Androgen, this hormone therapy leads to shrinkage or slow growth of prostate cancers. Hormone therapy may be used in cases where a patient is unable to undergo surgery or receive radiation. It is also used when a patient can not be cured by these treatments due to metastasis of prostate cancer.
  • Vaccine treatments make the immune system attack prostate cancer cells in the body. Vaccines are used to treat advanced prostate cancer that is causing few symptoms and is no longer responsive to hormone therapy.

What are the risk factors of prostate cancer?

  • Age: 6 in 10 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in men over the age of 65.
  • Ethnicity: African American men are more likely than Caucasian men to develop prostate cancer and to die from the disease.
  • Genetics: Having an immediate relative with prostate cancer doubles a man's risk of developing prostate cancer.

How is prostate cancer prevented?

  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet is linked with lower incidences of prostate cancer
  • Taking medicines to treat precancerous conditions or that prevent prostate cancer development helps prevent the development of prostate cancer. 
Mikayla D. Williams , BS student, Nursing , The University of Arizona
Michael S. Principe, MA, Information Resources and Library Science , The University of Arizona
Works Cited: 
Works Consulted: 
McCoy, Krisha and Stahl, Rebecca J (2014). Prostate Cancer.
National Cancer Institute (2014). Prostate Cancer.
Prostate Cancer Guide (2014). In Prostate Cancer Health Center.