The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped gland in the male reproductive system. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men after skin cancer. When diagnosed at an early stage, it can usually be treated successfully. In fact, when prostate cancer is caught early, nearly 100% of men diagnosed today will be alive in five years.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is a cancer that starts in the prostate. Cancer is a disease that begins in cells, which are the building blocks that make up all tissue and organs of the body, including the prostate. Normal cells grow, divide, and die on a regular schedule. Sometimes something goes wrong with this process and the cells don’t die as they should. Instead, they create a growth or tumor. Tumors can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Prostate cancer can spread from the prostate to the bone, other organs, and the lymph system. When this happens, the disease is called metastatic prostate cancer. If prostate cancer spreads, or metastasizes, to the bone, you have prostate cancer cells in the bone, not bone cancer.
How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
Prostate cancer can only be diagnosed with a tissue sample, which is obtained through a biopsy. Once you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you can learn more about your disease state, including your Gleason Score or grade, which indicates the aggressiveness of the disease, and Stage, which indicates the location of the cancer cells in your body. This information will help you and your doctor work together to develop the best treatment plan for you.
Treatment options vary depending on your prostate cancer stage and how aggressive the cancer cells are.
When should I be screened for prostate cancer?
Deciding to get tested is a personal decision made after a consultation with your doctor. Some important factors to consider are your age, race, family history, and history of chemical exposure. Prostate cancer screening includes:
- A Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate. The levels of PSA in the blood can be higher in men who have prostate cancer. The PSA level may also be elevated in other conditions.
- A Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) is a physical exam that is done when a doctor or nurse inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to estimate the size of the prostate and feel for lumps or other abnormalities.
In many cases, prostate cancer stays confined to the prostate and is so slow-growing that it may never pose a serious threat to your overall health. However, some cases of prostate cancer are aggressive and may quickly spread to other organs or bones. Your treatment decisions will depend largely on what kind of prostate cancer you have and how aggressive it is. You can determine this by knowing the stage and grade of your cancer.
What should you do if you or a loved one has just been diagnosed with prostate cancer? First, take a moment to breathe. After that, your priority is to find out as much as you can about your diagnosis and work with your doctor to make a plan. Visit our Newly Diagnosed section to find tools and information to help you do this.