When facing a cancer diagnosis, it’s normal to have lots of questions. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about prostate cancer.
What Is The Prostate?
The prostate is located below the bladder and in front of the rectum, surrounding the urethra (the tube through which urine passes). It’s responsible for producing a thick fluid that is a component of semen. In order to work properly, the prostate needs male sex hormones, like testosterone.
What Are The Symptoms of Prostate Cancer?
Symptoms of prostate cancer don’t usually present until later stages. More than 85% of early stage prostate cancer is curable. However, because symptoms aren’t obvious in early stages of the disease, prostate cancer is often not detected until the cancer has spread and reached an advanced stage. Once symptoms do become noticeable, they may include:
- A need to urinate often, especially at night
- Weak or interrupted urine flow
- Trouble starting to urinate
- Trouble emptying the bladder
- Being unable to urinate
- Accidental urination
- Painful or burning sensation when you urinate
- Blood in your urine or semen
- Pain or stiffness in your lower back, hips, ribs or upper thighs
- Loss of ability to have an erection
- Weakness or numbness in legs or feet
How Is Prostate Cancer Diagnosed?
Men should have regular digital rectal exams as they age. This involves a healthcare provider manually checking for lumpy areas in the prostate by inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum. If any abnormalities are detected, a doctor may order a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This test cannot provide a clear diagnosis, but its results can help determine whether or not to look for additional signs of cancer.
If further exploration is needed, a prostate biopsy may be performed. In this process, a urologist takes roughly 12 tissue samples from the prostate. A needle is inserted into the prostate, either through the rectum or the perineum. (The perineum is located between the testicles and anus).
Should the prostate biopsy return positive results, an oncologist will check for cancer elsewhere in the body. This is known as staging. During this time, patients may undergo blood tests, X-rays and CT, MRI or nuclear medicine scans.
What Causes Prostate Cancer?
The exact cause of prostate cancer is not know. However, there is evidence that the disease may be linked to genetics; men with relatives who have had prostate cancer are more at risk. Some studies have suggested that red meat and and high-fat dairy foods may contribute to prostate cancer. However, more studies are needed to corroborate this data.
Can Prostate Cancer Spread?
Yes. Prostate cancer can spread to surrounding tissues or organs located further away in the body.
How Is Prostate Cancer Treated?
Every prostate cancer case is unique, and not all men with prostate cancer will need treatment. Healthcare providers work with each patient to create a personalized care plan. If treatment is needed it may include:
- external radiation therapy
- internal radiation therapy
- hormone therapy
Will Prostate Cancer Surgery Affect My Sex Life?
A common side effect of prostate cancer is erectile dysfunction (ED). ED may correct itself in some cases, but it may take up to two years after surgery. However, there are treatments for all types of ED.
When To Get Tested
Risk of prostate cancer increases with age; 98% of new prostate cancer cases occur in men over 55. Once a man reaches age 40, he should have annual exams and, after age 50, should get a yearly PSA test.
Each year, 38,000 men die of prostate cancer. If you believe you’re at risk of prostate cancer, talk to your doctor.
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