Prostate cancer is a disease where cancer cells form in the tissues of the prostate.
It’s one of the most common cancers in U.S. men, but there are treatment options. First, though, it’s important for people to know when to get tested, what’s involved in testing, and what happens after lab results are in.
Prostate cancer treatment is a journey, but it’s one that saves the lives of millions of people.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in U.S. men, after skin cancer. It’s also the second leading cause of cancer death in U.S. men, with lung cancer being the leading cause.
These are the risk factors and key statistics of prostate cancer according to the
- Older men and non-Hispanic Black men have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
- About 1 in 8 men will receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer during their lifetime.
- Six in 10 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in men who are ages 65 and older.
- Prostate cancer is rare in men under age 40, though not impossible.
It’s estimated that 1 in 41 men will die of prostate cancer. However, more than 3.1 million men in the United States who have received a diagnosis of prostate cancer are still alive. This tells us that treatment works for many men with this type of cancer.
Prostate cancer treatment is a four-part process. It generally includes testing, biopsy, a treatment plan, and recovery. There are a variety of ways to both test for and treat the disease.
There are three common ways to test for prostate cancer.
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein that indicates the presence of prostate cancer. It can be measured through a blood test. A high level of PSA may indicate the need to do further testing.
- Digital rectal exam (DRE). A DRE involves a doctor inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel for any bumps or hard areas. These areas can sometimes be prostate cancer and can be felt during a rectal exam. While this exam can be uncomfortable, it usually isn’t painful and is completed in a short amount of time.
- Imaging test. An imaging test of the prostate gland may be considered if either a PSA blood test or digital rectal exam shows abnormal results. An MRI or ultrasound can detect prostate enlargement or nodules.
If any of your tests suggest a possible presence of prostate cancer, your doctor will likely order a prostate biopsy. This is a procedure in which small samples of the prostate are removed and examined under a microscope to look more closely at potential cancer cells.
- A core needle biopsy is the main option for diagnosing prostate cancer. This procedure is generally done by a urologist.
- Your doctor will first numb the area by injecting a local anesthetic. Then, a thin, hollow needle is inserted into the prostate to collect about 12 samples from different areas.
- Biopsies usually take about 10 minutes and are completed as an outpatient procedure in a doctor’s office.
- Your doctor will likely ask you to take antibiotics before and after the procedure to reduce the risk of infection.
There are three possible outcomes for a biopsy: positive for cancer, negative for cancer, or suspicious, which means abnormal results are present that aren’t necessarily cancer.
Depending on the stage or grade of prostate cancer, different treatment options can be considered. There are eight types of standard treatments that are used for prostate cancer:
- Watchful waiting or active surveillance. Close monitoring for any changes in men who have prostate cancer, but don’t have any signs or symptoms.
- Surgery. A tumor that hasn’t spread beyond the prostate gland is surgically removed.
- Radiation and radiopharmaceutical therapy. High energy X-rays or other types of radiation kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
- Hormone therapy. Hormones that cause prostate cancer to grow are reduced or blocked.
- Chemotherapy. Drugs stop the growth of cancer cells by killing them or preventing them from dividing.
- Targeted therapy. Drugs and other substances identify and attack specific cancer cells, which usually causes less harm to healthy cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- Immunotherapy. The immune system fights cancer through substances made by the body or made in a laboratory.
- Bisphosphonate therapy. Drugs reduce bone disease when cancer has spread to the bone.
Treatments are also being tested in clinical trials, and these may be used in the near future:
- Cryosurgery. An instrument freezes and destroys prostate cancer cells.
- High intensity focused ultrasound therapy. Ultrasound is used to destroy cancer cells.
- Proton beam radiation therapy. External radiation therapy sends streams of protons into the body to kill tumor cells.
- Photodynamic therapy. A drug and a certain type of laser light kill cancer cells.
Prostate cancer can be removed or treated. In some men, however, cancer may come back or never go away completely. Follow-up care is essential to keep track of any changes or new symptoms.
A recovery plan can consist of but isn’t limited to:
- Doctors’ visits and tests. Testing will usually begin a few months after finishing prostate cancer treatment. It can include PSA blood tests and DREs.
- Lifestyle changes. Getting regular exercise, maintaining a moderate weight, avoiding smoking, and eating a nutritious diet will be important for long-term care and wellness.
- Emotional and social support. The prostate cancer journey can include feelings of depression, anxiety, or stress. You may want to seek a support group or turn to a loved one or mental health care professional to share your feelings, build connections, and foster a sense of community.
- Feeling good about yourself. Doing the things you love will go a long way in recovery. It’s important to maintain things you enjoy, like hobbies. It’s also important to maintain sexual intimacy with any partners you may have since treatment can sometimes affect sexual function. Being comfortable with your body should always be a priority.
Prostate cancer may be scary, but it can be survived.
Discussing the potential benefits of screening with your doctor, and staying on top of your prostate health, can help you get an early diagnosis.
The earlier you get a diagnosis, the better the chances for a good outcome.