Learning About Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers in the world, despite it only being diagnosed in males (females do not have prostate glands). In fact, more than 70 percent of men over the age of 80 have some quantity of cancer cells in their prostate.

The overall prognosis for men diagnosed with prostate cancer is as positive as you can get when talking about the dreaded “c” word. The five-year survival rates for the disease are close to 100 percent, especially when talking about prostate cancer that is caught early on in the process – before it spreads.

Nevertheless, prostate cancer is serious business, and the best way to handle a diagnosis is to be informed. Let’s take a look at the frequency at which it’s diagnosed, how you’re tested for it, how it can affect your daily life, and what we can do to try and prevent the disease.

What Is Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer in the world among men (skin cancer is first, lung cancer is third). Nearly 200,000 men are diagnosed with the disease every year, and most of them are over the age of 50. It’s estimated that nearly 30,000 men died because of prostate cancer in 2018.

However, the overall prognosis of prostate cancer is positive. The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that the 15-year survival rate for those diagnosed with prostate cancer is 96 percent – meaning that 96 percent of people diagnosed with the disease live for 15 years past their diagnosis date. That number is even higher when you look at the 5- and 10-year survival rates. This can be attributed to early detection and treatment options.

The prostate is a small gland, about the size of a walnut (about an inch and a half in diameter) located between the bladder, penis, and rectum. The primary function of the prostate is to excrete prostate fluid, which mixes with sperm to become semen during ejaculation. The urethra also runs through the prostate from the bladder to the penis. When ejaculating, the prostate closes off the urethra from the bladder and thrusts the semen from the testes, through the prostate, and to the penis. The fluid that comes from the prostate makes up about one-third of the overall semen fluid composition.

Because the prostate is packed between other vital organs like the bladder, rectum, penis, and urethra, when it grows – as it usually does with prostate cancer – it can cause a lot of issues.

Early Stage Prostate Cancer

Most prostate cancer (about four out of every five cases) is caught in the early stage. Prostate cancer is in the early stage when the prostate hasn’t grown or swelled because of the cancer’s presence, and it’s still localized in the gland. While there are four stages of prostate cancer, each with their own levels of severity, nearly all of these stages are considered in the “early stage” as long as the cancer hasn’t spread outside of the prostate.

After various tests, your doctor will assign a stage, or a Gleason score, based on what your prostate looks like and how aggressive the cancer is. The higher Gleason score you have (it runs grade one through five), the more aggressive the cancer is. While the cancer is still is in the prostate, it’s still in the early stages.


There are several treatment options available in the early stages of prostate cancer. These options include:

* Surgery: A prostatectomy, surgery that removes parts of the prostate, is typically a choice in younger, healthy men who want to get rid of the problem while the side effects from surgery are less likely to be risky.

* Radiation: Treating prostate cancer with radiation is a good option for older men with diminished health whose cancer is progressing.

* Observation: Sometimes the best treatment is no treatment at all, but rather consistent check-ups and tests to make sure the cancer isn’t progressing faster than usual.

Late-Stage Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is in its latest stages when it has spread to nearby locations such as bones, lymph nodes, and organs. While survival rates for all stages before this are extremely high, once prostate cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body, the survival rates over the next five years are below 30 percent, according to the ACS.

Treatment options for late-stage prostate cancer tend to attack the cancer as a whole rather than the area it’s localized to, like the prostate or your spine. Some late-state prostate cancer treatments may include hormone therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation.

Who Is Most At Risk of Being Diagnosed?

The average age of a prostate cancer diagnosis is 66, according to the ACS, and it’s rare to be diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 40. This is why testing isn’t usually suggested until you are at least 45.

The men most affected by prostate cancer are older than 50. The chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer increases with age, too. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), the following is a list of a man’s chances of developing prostate cancer at different age ranges:

* Before 50: 1 in 403

* Between 50 and 59: 1 in 58

* Between 60 and 69: 1 in 21

* Between 70 and 79: 1 in 14

The chances of being diagnosed with the disease continue to rise after 80.

In addition to age being a telling factor in how likely it is a male will develop prostate cancer, so is race. While diagnosis rates fell for all races between 1999 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black men consistently were diagnosed with prostate cancer far more frequently than any other racial group.

Some trends over the 16 years include:

* Black men were diagnosed with prostate cancer more than 50 percent the national average per 100,000 people.

* Whites and Hispanics were diagnosed at similar rates, both of which fell just below the national average.

* American Indian/Alaska Natives and Asian/Pacific Islanders both fell more than 50 percent below the national average of diagnosis rates per 100,000 people.

It’s suggested that black males in America start to get tested earlier than white men (in their 40s rather than their 50s), because black men have been found to have more advanced prostate cancer when it is diagnosed, which means earlier testing could catch the disease earlier on.

Other Risk Factors

Outside of age and race, there are lifestyle choices and genetic predispositions that put you at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. These can include family history, genetic mutations, and agent orange.

Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

A lot of the symptoms of the disease have to do with discomfort while urinating and ejaculating. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, these can include blood in the urine; pain while ejaculating; frequently having to urinate; pain while urinating; sporadic flow of urination; and pain, to name a few. In its earliest stages, none of these symptoms may be present, which is why it’s important to get ahead of the disease with testing.

Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

A symptom of prostate cancer is an enlarged prostate, so the main way doctors test for it is by feeling the prostate. Formally called a “digital rectal exam (DRE),” doctors place a lubricated finger, covered with a glove, up the rectum and feel for the prostate, which is right next to the rectum. The doctor feels for any abnormalities. There are various tests doctors run to confirm a diagnosis, including a blood test, or PSA test; urinalysis; ultrasound; biopsy; and various scans.

It’s suggested to get tested once a year, like at an annual checkup, starting in your 50s. Your doctor may suggest you start getting a test sooner if you are particularly prone to prostate cancer based on your family history or demographics.

Prostate Cancer Prevention

Some steps that may help push back a diagnosis include a healthy diet, exercise, and reducing stress. These preventative steps are also recommended for other types of cancers and diseases. While they may not explicitly reduce your risk of getting prostate cancer, following these steps won’t increase your chances of developing the disease.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding a prostate cancer diagnosis, or think you may have the disease, contact your doctor immediately.

~ Provided by The National Council for Aging Care, which serves as a resource to help seniors and their families learn more about the specifics about planning for their later years from finances and health care to lifestyle and caregiving. For more information, visit aging.com.

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