Prostate cancer

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Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men (not including non-melanoma skin cancers, which are rarely serious). It causes significant illness and mortality.

The Prostate

For a more detailed treatment, see Prostate.

The prostate gland, found only in males, lies just below the bladder, and the urethra (the tube that carries urine) runs directly through it (although in some other mammals, the urethra runs around, rather than through, the prostate[1]). This fact is important in explaining many of the symptoms of the disease.


The primary risk factors for prostate cancer are:

  • Age: Prostate cancer is a disease primarily of older men. Most cases are diagnosed in men over 65 years old.
  • Race: Prostate cancer is more common in African-Americans than in other American ethnic groups.
  • Family history: if you have a brother or father with prostate cancer your risk is higher.

Approximately a quarter of a million men will be diagnosed each year, and about thirty thousand will die of the disease. However, prostate cancer can be a very slowly progressing disease, and many men die of other natural causes before their prostate cancer harms them.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

Normal prostate, above, and cancerous prostate, below, compressing the urethra.

Prostate cancer is usually diagnosed by symptoms, by digital rectal exam, or by a blood test measuring a chemical called prostate specific antigen (PSA). Symptoms, when the occur, are related to the location of the gland, and often include:

  • Difficulty with urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Urinary infections
  • Erectile dysfunction

All of these symptoms can be normal signs of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), and do not necessarily mean a man has cancer.

Diagnosis is usually made by ultrasound and biopsy of the gland.

Treatment & Prognosis

The treatment of prostate cancer is an area of very active research. Treatment of any particular patient depends on the particular tumor and the particular patient. Therapy may include radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy, or any combination of the above. Prognosis is often quite good, in early prostate cancer, however, as stated above, the disease causes considerable illness and death in the U.S.

See also


  1. R. Ganzer et al, "Muscle systems of the lower urinary tract of the male rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta): histomorphology and 3-dimensional reconstruction," J. Urol. 2002 Oct;168(4 Pt 1):1603-7 [1]
  • Jemal, A, Siegel R; Ward E, et al. Cancer statistics, 2006. CA Cancer J Clin 2006; 56:106.
  • U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 2003 Incidence and Mortality (preliminary data). Atlanta (GA): Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Cancer Institute; 2006.