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About prostate cancer

Prostate cancer starts in the prostate, a gland located below the bladder and in front of the rectum. 

  • The prostate contains several types of cells, but nearly all prostate cancers develop from glandular cells, which make fluid that becomes part of semen. 
  • Prostate cancer cells spread by invading nearby organs and tissues, such as the bladder or rectum, or by traveling through the blood or lymph to other parts of the body. This is known as metastatic prostate cancer. 
  • Other than the lymph nodes near the prostate, the most common site of prostate cancer spread, or metastasis, is the bones, especially in the spine.

Many doctors considered prostate cancer in older men to be part of the typical aging process. The disease was largely ignored, except when it struck younger men. Now there are more advanced treatments that allow many men with prostate cancer at any age to continue leading active, productive lives.

  • Symptoms

    Prostate cancer symptoms typically do not appear early in the disease. In many men, doctors first detect signs of prostate cancer during a routine check-up. 

    More advanced prostate cancer symptoms may include:

    • Interrupted flow of urine.
    • Frequent urination (particularly at night.)
    • Pain or burning during urination.
    • Difficulty getting or sustaining an erection (impotence).
    • Painful ejaculation.
    • Blood in the urine or semen.
    • Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips or upper thighs.

    Many of these symptoms are also seen with noncancerous diseases. They may be similar to BPH symptoms or prostatitis symptoms.

    If you are experiencing any signs and symptoms of prostate cancer, discuss them with your doctor.

  • Risk factors

    There are many factors that may contribute to prostate cancer risk. The most common risk factors are:

    • Age. While prostate cancer can occur at any age, it is most commonly found in men over age 50, and more than two-thirds of men diagnosed with the disease are over 65.
    • Family history and genetics. A family history of prostate cancer may increase your risk, particularly if you have relatives who were younger than 60 when they were diagnosed. If your father or brother had prostate cancer, your risk is two to three times greater than if you had no family history of the disease.
    • Race or ethnicity. African-American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer than men of other races. The disease is less common among men of Asian or Hispanic/Latino descent than among those of European descent. 
    • Hormone levels. Research suggests that the development of prostate cancer is linked to higher levels of certain hormones, such as testosterone, the main male sex hormone. Testosterone is changed into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by an enzyme in the body. DHT is important for normal prostate growth but can also cause the prostate to get bigger and may play a role in development of prostate cancer.
  • Other factors that may affect risk

    Although the reasons are unclear, scientists believe diet is a critical factor in prostate cancer risk. A diet high in red meat, dairy foods and calcium and low in fruits and vegetables may play a part. Vitamin E and folic acid are also thought to increase the risk.

    Studies have not shown a clear link between obesity and prostate cancer, but in some studies obese men have had a lower risk of getting a low-grade form of the disease but a higher risk of getting more aggressive prostate cancer. Several studies have found that obese men may be at greater risk of having more advanced prostate cancer and of dying from prostate cancer.

    Researchers are studying how nutrition may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. They are also studying whether men can reduce their risk through exercise and by taking certain dietary supplements.

    Scientists have also studied whether having an inflamed or enlarged prostate, having a vasectomy, smoking, being exposed to radiation or having a sexually transmitted virus might increase prostate cancer risk. At this time, there is little evidence that these factors contribute to risk.