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Prostate Cancer

What is Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is cancer of the prostate gland. It is the second-leading cause of cancer death for men in the United States. About 1 in 35 men will die from it. Growths in the prostate can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

Benign growths (such as benign prostatic hypertrophy):

  • Are rarely a threat to life
  • Don’t invade the tissues around them
  • Don’t spread to other parts of the body
  • Can be removed and can grow back very slowly usually don’t grow back

Malignant growths (prostate cancer):

  • May sometimes be a threat to life
  • Can invade nearby organs and tissues (such as the bladder or rectum)
  • Can spread to other parts of the body
  • Often can be removed but sometimes grow back

Prostate cancer cells can spread by breaking away from a prostate tumor. They can travel through blood vessels or lymph vessels to reach other parts of the body. After spreading, cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors that may damage those tissues. When prostate cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor. For example, if prostate cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually prostate cancer cells. The disease is metastatic prostate cancer, not bone cancer. For that reason, it’s treated as prostate cancer, not bone cancer.

To understand prostate cancer, it helps to know how the prostate normally works.

The Prostate

Male reproductive system
Male reproductive system

The prostate is part of the male reproductive system. It is about the size of a walnut and weighs about an ounce. The prostate is below the bladder and in front of the rectum. The prostate goes all the way around a tube called the urethra. The urethra carries urine from the bladder out through the penis. The main job of the prostate is to make fluid for semen. During ejaculation, sperm made in the testicles moves to the urethra. At the same time, fluid from the prostate and the seminal vesicles also moves into the urethra. This mixture—semen—goes through the urethra and out of the penis.

What Are The Symptoms of Prostate Cancer?

In its early stages, prostate cancer often has no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can be like those of an enlarged prostate or BPH. Thus, it is vital to talk to your health care provider when you have urinary symptoms. Later symptoms include:

  • Dull pain in the lower pelvic area
  • Frequent urinating
  • Trouble urinating, pain, burning, or weak urine flow
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Pain in the lower back, hips or upper thighs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Bone pain

What Causes Prostate Cancer?

We don’t know exactly why and how prostate cancer starts. Autopsy studies show that one in every three men over age 50 have signs of prostate cancer. Up to 80% had small, low grade tumors. A study of organ donors found prostate cancer in 1 in 3 men age 60–69 and in 46% of men over age 70.

What causes prostate cancer is still unknown. Research hopes to find the answer soon. Modern theory is that many things can raise a man’s risk for prostate cancer.

What Are The Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer?


As men age, their risk of prostate cancer goes up. The American Cancer Society says prostate cancer causes about 10% of cancer–related deaths in men 60 to 79 years old. It causes nearly 25% of cancer deaths in men over age 80. It is rarely found in men younger than 40.


African–Americans are in the highest risk group. There are more than 200 cases per 100,000 black men. White and Asian men have about half as many cases as blacks. African–American men tend to be diagnosed when the disease is more advanced. They are more likely to die of prostate cancer than white or Asian men.

Family History

Men with a family history of prostate cancer also face higher risk. The more close relatives (father, son, brother) diagnosed with prostate cancer, the higher your risk. The age a close relative was diagnosed can also raise your risk. If you have a family history, you are 2 to 11 times more at–risk than men with no family history.

If your father, brother or other close relative had prostate cancer, you are at higher risk. This is true if two or more close relatives had prostate cancer. It is also true if a close relative was diagnosed before age 55.


Studies show prostate cancer risk may double for heavy smokers. Within 10 years of quitting smoking, your risk goes down to that of a non–smoker the same age.

World Area

Prostate cancer numbers and deaths vary around the world. Numbers are low but rising in Asian countries. Numbers are medium in Central America and Western Africa. They are higher in North America and Northern Europe. The higher rates may be due to better screening, heredity, diet and environment.

The differences may also be linked to soy proteins in the diet. In some Asian countries, soy intake in tofu, soy milk, and miso is up to 90 times higher than in the U.S. Prostate cancer numbers and deaths are much lower in those countries. A study of more than 40 nations found soy, per calorie, to be the most protective dietary factor. This may be linked to chemicals in soy. They may act as weak estrogens. Estrogens are female hormones. They slow down prostate cancer growth. Some experts think high intake of green tea in Asia may also have an effect. But, there are no clear answers yet.


Diet and lifestyle may affect the risk of prostate cancer. It isn’t clear exactly how. The risk may be higher for those who eat more calories, fat and refined sugar and not enough fruits, vegetables and exercise. Obesity is linked to increased risk for death from prostate cancer. One way to avoid death from prostate cancer is to lose weight, and keep it off.


Vitamin D also affects the prostate. Prostate cancer risk may be lower with higher exposure to sunlight, the main source of vitamin D. Older men may have higher prostate cancer rates because they get less sun. Or the aging body may have trouble making vitamin D. But recent studies have found no link between vitamin D levels and prostate cancer risk. One study found that men with higher vitamin D had a higher risk of prostate cancer.

The National Institutes of Health began a large study of more than 30,000 men. The study was to test whether vitamin E or selenium would prevent prostate cancer. The study ended early because there was no proof that either one, alone or together, prevente

A healthy lifestyle is best. Eat a balanced diet. Eat less and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Get lots of exercise, don’t smoke, and keep a normal body weight.

Can Prostate Cancer Be Prevented?

There is no known way to prevent prostate cancer. But if you do things that are heart healthy, you will also keep your prostate healthy. Eating right, exercising, watching your weight, and not smoking can improve your health and help avoid prostate cancer.
There is still debate on how to prevent prostate cancer. Some health care providers believe drugs like finasteride (Proscar) and dutasteride (Avodart) can prevent it. Others believe they only slow progress. In studies, men taking these drugs were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. It is not known if the drugs slow the cancer and lower the death risk.

Adopted from Urology care foundation