Know the facts on prostate cancer

December 2012

Learning the facts about prostate cancer

Prostate cancer strikes fear in the hearts of even the strongest men. No wonder. There's a fair bit of myth and misunderstanding about it. But prostate cancer treatment is getting faster and less painful. There’s less risk of damage or scarring to nerves and other organs. So pay attention to warning signs and see your doctor if you think something's wrong.

The first thing you need to know is what the prostate is and does. It’s a gland in a man's reproductive system. It's about the size of a walnut and is located just under the bladder. Fluid from the prostate gland is part of a man's semen. As men get older, their prostates can get bigger. An enlarged prostate may block the bladder or urethra, making it hard to urinate.

Several conditions can cause enlarged prostate. One of them is prostate cancer. It is the second-most common cancer, after skin cancer.

There's no way to know for sure if you're at risk for prostate cancer. But the chances seem higher for men who are 50 years old or older and for African-Americans. Your risk may also be higher if your brother, father, or son has had prostate cancer.

Signs, symptoms, and screening

Signs of prostate cancer are different in different people. Some men don't even have symptoms at all. But some of the signs doctors see most include frequent urination, weak or interrupted flow of urine, trouble urinating or pain or burning while urinating. Other common symptoms are pain during ejaculation, blood in the urine or semen, and pain in the back or hips that doesn’t go away.

What’s tricky is that some of these can be symptoms of entirely different problems. So don't assume the worst. See your doctor to get answers and make a plan.

Doctors have differing opinions about whether men without symptoms should get regular screening for prostate cancer. Talk to your doctor about what he or she recommends for you.

Typical treatments for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer, after skin cancer.

Not every case of prostate cancer needs to be treated. If your cancer is diagnosed late in life and is slow-growing, your doctor may feel that watching and waiting is best.

To treat prostate cancer, doctors can use surgery, radiation, or hormone therapy. Other types of treatment are being tested too. These include cryotherapy (freezing the cancer cells), chemotherapy, biological therapy, and high-intensity focused ultrasound.

For more information about prostate cancer and its treatment, visit the National Cancer Institute.

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