The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. Cancer that grows in the prostate gland is called prostate cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men in the U.S.
Men have traditionally been less likely to seek medical attention than women, especially for minor problems which often serve as warning signs for more serious underlying illness. It’s estimated that approximately 234,460 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and approximately 27,350 will die of the disease.
Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of death from cancer in men of all ages and is the most common cause of death from cancer in men over 75 years old.
Some men will experience symptoms that might indicate the presence of prostate cancer. One symptom is a need to urinate frequently, especially at night. If cancer is caught at its earliest stages, most men will not experience any symptoms. Weak or interrupted flow of urine and painful or burning urination can be symptoms to watch out for. Other symptoms might include unintentional weight loss and lethargy. One cancer symptom is difficulty starting urination or holding back urine.
A PSA test with a high level can also be from a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. When a digital rectal exam is performed it often reveals an enlarged prostate with a hard, irregular surface. A bone scan can indicate whether the cancer has spread or not.
Another test usually used when symptoms are present is the digital rectal exam (DRE) performed by the doctor. A number of tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis. There is a newer test called AMACR that is more sensitive than the PSA test for determining the presence of prostate cancer.
Medications can have many side effects, including hot flashes and loss of sexual desire. Chemotherapy medications are often used to treat prostate cancers that are resistant to hormonal treatments. Radiation therapy is used primarily to treat prostate cancers classified as stages A, B, or C.
Side effects of chemotherapy drugs depend on which ones you’re taking and how often and how long they’re taken. Surgery is usually only recommended after thorough evaluation and discussion of all available treatment options. Prostate cancer that has spread (metastasized) may be treated conventionally with drugs to reduce testosterone levels, surgery to remove the testes, chemotherapy or nothing at all.
Impotence is a potential complication after the prostatectomy or after radiation therapy. An oncology specialist will usually recommend treating with a single drug or a combination of drugs. Treatment options can vary based on the stage of the tumor.
Other medications used for hormonal therapy, with side effects, include androgen-blocking agents, which prevent testosterone from attaching to prostate cells. The conventional treatment of prostate cancer is often controversial. Thoroughly discuss your treatment options and concerns with your doctor and other health professionals; it never hurts to get a second or even third opinion or more if necessary.
Radiation therapy to the prostate gland is either external or internal, both of which use high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Since prostate tumors require testosterone to grow, reducing the testosterone level is used to prevent further growth and spread of the cancer.
Because it’s a slow-growing disease, many men with this disease will die from other causes before they die from prostate cancer. In the end, only you with the help of your doctors, knowing your individual situation, can determine the best treatment program for you. Once diagnosed you may be want to join a support group whose members share their experiences and problems.