Prostate cancer – the second most common cancer in American men

  • Published
  • By Dr. William F. Price
  • 71st Medical Group
Like many types of cancer, prostate cancer can be aggressive. This means it grows quickly and can spread to other parts of the body. Prostate cancer can also grow more slowly.

The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate makes a fluid that mixes with sperm and other fluids during ejaculation. A normal prostate is about the size of a walnut. 

If you have prostate cancer, it is important for your doctor to monitor your cancer carefully. If left completely unchecked, the cancer can grow quickly and spread to other organs in your body. This makes treatment much more difficult. 

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer found in American men, other than skin cancer. Although men of any age can get prostate cancer, it is found most often in men over age 50. In fact, more than eight of 10 men with prostate cancer are over the age of 65. 

African-American men are at higher risk than Caucasian men. Men with a family history of prostate cancer, men who are obese and men who eat a diet high in fat are also at a higher risk for prostate cancer. 

Prostate cancer, especially in its early stages, often does not have any symptoms. Symptoms are more likely to appear as the cancer grows. 

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
Difficulty starting to urinate
Less force to the urine stream
Dribbling after you finish urinating
Frequent urination, especially at night
Blood or pus in the urine
Pain while urinating
Pain with ejaculation
Hip and lower back pain that does not go away over time
Pain in the lower part of your pelvis
Unintended weight loss and/or loss of appetite 

Your doctor may examine your prostate by putting a gloved, lubricated finger a few inches into your rectum to feel your prostate gland. This is called a digital rectal exam. A normal prostate feels firm. If there are hard spots on the prostate your doctor may suggest additional testing to check for prostate cancer. 

Another way to check for prostate cancer is with a blood test called the PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, test. Men who have prostate cancer may have a higher level of PSA in their blood. However, the PSA level can also be high because of less serious causes, such as infection. 

If prostate cancer is caught early, before it has spread to other parts of the body, it can often be treated successfully. 

For early stages of prostate cancer, one option is "watchful waiting." Watchful waiting means seeing your doctor often so he or she can track the cancer. This can include frequent blood tests and rectal exams to check the growth of the cancer. 

This may be a good option for those with slow-growing cancer, or men who are elderly and/or in poor health. At any time during watchful waiting, you can choose to switch to another treatment. 

It is important to realize that watchful waiting does not involve medication or treatment that will kill the cancer. It is just an observation period. If the cancer suddenly starts to grow more quickly or begins to cause symptoms, you may need to switch to a more aggressive treatment option. 

Surgery, radiation and drug therapy are options for treating prostate cancer. These treatments can cause side effects, such as impotence and incontinence, but they usually disappear after treatment. 

For more information, go to the following Web sites:
American Cancer Society -- 800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345)
National Cancer Institute -- 800-4-CANCER
Prostate Health Council/American Foundation for Urologic Disease -- 800-242-2383
Revolution Health Cancer Community --