Definition & Overview
Prostate cancer, as the name suggests, is a type of cancer that originates from the prostate gland, a walnut-sized gland located between the penis and the bladder. The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system and is responsible for nourishing and protecting sperm. In the early forms, the cancer is confined to the prostate but can spread to other organs if left untreated. As like most types of cancer, treatment of prostate cancer is much more successful when detected in its early stages.
Prostate Cancer Causes
While it is known that the majority of prostate cancer cases are in men over the age of 65, the exact causes of the disease are yet to be identified. However, studies have established links between prostate cancer and eating fat from meat and meat cooked at high temperatures.
Hormones and work conditions are also known risk factors. Increased levels of testosterone aid in the growth of prostate cancer and those whose work conditions expose them to metal cadmium are at a higher risk of being affected by the disease. Other risk factors include family history, diet, and lifestyle.
Can Prostate Cancer Be Prevented?
Without knowing the exact cause of this disease, prevention methods mostly rely on risk factors. Having a healthy, balanced diet like eating less red meat and more fruits and vegetables may aid in its prevention. Antioxidants are essential in the prevention of any type of cancer and thus can also be beneficial in the prevention of prostate cancer.
Although prostate cancer cannot be totally prevented, it is treatable especially when discovered in its early stages. One of the tests that could lead to early diagnosis is the PSA test, which measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) produced by tissue in the prostate. Although the method has come under plenty of controversies in the past, it is still highly recommended particularly for those with a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
PSA, while able to detect prostate cancer, can also detect benign prostate disease, which means that a cancer diagnosis may be incorrect, thus leading to unnecessary treatment. In fact, PSA is one of the causes of a high rate of unnecessary biopsies and cancer treatments every year.
Nevertheless, it is still the only method used to date to discover prostate cancer in its early stages, thus resulting in higher rates of successful treatments. Unfortunately, forgoing PSA screening will most likely lead to the discovery of prostate cancer when it is already in its advanced stages.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
One of the reasons why it is difficult to detect prostate cancer in its early stages is because it does not have any symptoms at this stage. Once the cancer has developed, its symptoms may include frequent, painful, and weak urination. However, it is important to note that these are also symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is not cancer but leads to an enlarged prostate as the amount of cells inside it increases.
Other prostate cancer symptoms include difficulty in having an erection, painful ejaculation, severe pain in the lower back or upper thighs, and blood in urine or semen.
Prostate Cancer Treatment
If you start noticing the symptoms of this disease, you’ll need to inform your doctor right away. Your doctor will likely ask you to undergo a series of tests to make a diagnosis. If prostate cancer has been confirmed, you will be referred to a team of medical specialists that will include a urologist, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist, otherwise known as cancer specialists. The team will also include oncology nurses, dietitians, physical and occupational therapists, and a counsellor or psychologist.
Before any treatment is initiated, the extent of cancer will be first determined. Pathologists grade prostate cancer using the Gleason system. A Gleason score provides information on the extent of cancer and the patient’s prognosis. Since cancer cells in the prostate can be found in two different areas, a Gleason score is given to each area. Both scores are then added to come up with the Gleason sum. For example, if the Gleason score is 2+4=6, it means that most cancer cells in one specific area are grade 2 while a small number of cancer cells are grade 4. The highest Gleason score is 10, which means that prostate cancer is already in its advanced stages and that any treatment is most unlikely to cure it.
If the cancer is still in its early stage and has not spread to other tissues or organs, treatment can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, active surveillance or hormone therapy. If surgery is the best option, the surgeon will perform a radical prostatectomy, which involves removing the entire prostate and seminal vesicles to ensure that all cancer cells are eliminated.
Unfortunately, there is no cure available to treat stage III or IV prostate cancer at this time. Stage III, otherwise known as the locally advanced stage, is when cancer has already spread to the seminal vesicles and lymph nodes. Stage IV, on the other hand, is when cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Although rare, patients with advanced prostate cancer also develop neurological complications in which the disease metastasizes in the lumbar area and travels to the brain resulting in the development of brain tumors.
While there is no available cure for both stage III or IV prostate cancer, it can be controlled for the long term (palliative care). In fact, many of those who have undergone palliative therapy lived a good quality life for years or even decades. The goal of this therapy is to minimise the side effects of the disease and ensure that patients experience as little pain as possible.
National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/
Prostate Cancer Institute. http://www.prostate-cancer-institute.org/
Prostate Cancer Foundation. http://www.pcf.org/