Description, causes, prevention, treatment and medicines
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is the development of cancer in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system. Most prostate cancers are slow growing; however, some grow relatively quickly. The cancer cells may spread from the prostate to other parts of the body, particularly the bones and lymph nodes. It may initially cause no symptoms. In later stages it can lead to difficulty urinating, blood in the urine, or pain in the pelvis, back or when urinating. A disease known as benign prostatic hyperplasia may produce similar symptoms. Other late symptoms may include feeling tired due to low levels of red blood cells.
What causes prostate cancer?
While the causes of prostate cancer are unknown, the chance of developing prostate cancer increases:
- as you get older – it mainly affects men over 65;
- if your father or brother has had prostate cancer;
- if you have a strong family history of breast cancer.
In 5-10 per cent of men with prostate cancer, their family medical history may indicate they have an inherited gene that contributed to the cancer’s development.
You may have an inherited prostate cancer gene if you have:
- multiple relatives with prostate cancer or breast cancer on the same side of the family (either the mother’s or father’s side)
- younger male relatives (under 50) with prostate cancer.
If you are concerned about your family history of prostate cancer, you may wish to ask your doctor for a referral to a family cancer clinic or a urologist to advise you on suitable testing for you and your family.
Men should discuss their individual need for prostate cancer screening with their GP.
A complete understanding of the causes of prostate cancer remains elusive. The primary risk factors are obesity, age and family history.
Prostate cancer is very uncommon in men younger than 45, but becomes more common with advancing age. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 70. However, many men never know they have prostate cancer.
Autopsy studies of Chinese, German, Israeli, Jamaican, Swedish, and Ugandan men who died of other causes have found prostate cancer in 30% of men in their fifties, and in 80% of men in their seventies. Men who have first-degree family members with prostate cancer appear to have double the risk of getting the disease compared to men without prostate cancer in the family. This risk appears to be greater for men with an affected brother than for men with an affected father. In the United States in 2005, there were an estimated 230,000 new cases of prostate cancer and 30,000 deaths due to prostate cancer.
Men with high blood pressure are more likely to develop prostate cancer. There is a small increased risk of prostate cancer associated with lack of exercise. A 2010 study found that prostate basal cells were the most common site of origin for prostate cancers.
Symptoms of prostate cancer
Early prostate cancer rarely causes symptoms. This is because the cancer is not large enough to put pressure on the urethra.
If the cancer grows and spreads beyond the prostate (advanced cancer), it may cause:
- pain or burning when urinating;
- increased frequency or difficulty urinating;
- blood in the urine or semen;
- pain in the lower back, hips or upper thighs.
Advanced prostate cancer can press on the urethra and cause urinary problems but by then it is probably causing other more serious symptoms.
These symptoms are common to other conditions and may not be a sign of advanced prostate cancer. If you are concerned about cancer and/or are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak to your general practitioner (GP).