Prostate cancer is a form of cancer that develops in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system. The cancer cells may metastasize (spread) from the prostate to other parts of the body, particularly the bones and lymph nodes. Prostate cancer may cause pain, difficulty in urinating, problems during sexual intercourse, or erectile dysfunction. Other symptoms can potentially develop during later stages of the disease.
Treatment options for prostate cancer with intent to cure are primarily surgery, radiation therapy, and proton therapy. Other treatments, such as hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, cryosurgery, and high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) also exist, depending on the clinical scenario and desired outcome.
Signs and symptoms
Early prostate cancer usually causes no symptoms. Often it is diagnosed during the workup for an elevated PSA noticed during a routine checkup. It’s highly advised to avoid sexual intercourse for 3 days prior to a PSA test because that does affect the outcome of the test. Sometimes, however, prostate cancer does cause symptoms, often similar to those of diseases such as benign prostatic hypertrophy. These include frequent urination, increased urination at night, difficulty starting and maintaining a steady stream of urine, blood in the urine, and painful urination. Prostate cancer is associated with urinary dysfunction as the prostate gland surrounds the prostatic urethra. Changes within the gland, therefore, directly affect urinary function. Because the vas deferens deposits seminal fluid into the prostatic urethra, and secretions from the prostate gland itself are included in semen content, prostate cancer may also cause problems with sexual function and performance, such as difficulty achieving erection or painful ejaculation.
Advanced prostate cancer can spread to other parts of the body, possibly causing additional symptoms. The most common symptom is bone pain, often in the vertebrae (bones of the spine), pelvis, or ribs. Spread of cancer into other bones such as the femur is usually to the proximal part of the bone. Prostate cancer in the spine can also compress the spinal cord, causing leg weakness and urinary and fecal incontinence.
Genetic background may contribute to prostate cancer risk, as suggested by associations with race, family, and specific gene variants. In the United States, prostate cancer more commonly affects black men than white or Hispanic men, and is also more deadly in black men. In contrast, the incidence and mortality rates for Hispanic men are one third lower than for non-Hispanic whites. Men who have a brother or father with prostate cancer have twice the risk of developing prostate cancer. Studies of twins in Scandinavia suggest that forty percent of prostate cancer risk can be explained by inherited factors.
No single gene is responsible for prostate cancer; many different genes have been implicated. Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, important risk factors for ovarian cancer and breast cancer in women, have also been implicated in prostate cancer. Other linked genes include the “prostate cancer gene”, HPC1, the androgen receptor, and the vitamin D receptor. The TEMPRSS2-ETS fusion gene exists in many prostate cancer cases and helps prostate cancer cells to survive and grow.
Dietary amounts of certain foods, vitamins, and minerals can contribute to prostate cancer risk. Dietary factors that may decrease prostate cancer risk include the mineral selenium. A study in 2007 cast doubt on the effectiveness of lycopene (found in tomatoes) in reducing the risk of prostate cancer. Lower blood levels of vitamin D also may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. This may be linked to lower exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, since UV light exposure can increase vitamin D in the body.
If cancer is suspected, a biopsy is offered. During a biopsy a urologist or radiologist obtains tissue samples from the prostate via the rectum. A biopsy gun inserts and removes special hollow-core needles (usually three to six on each side of the prostate) in less than a second. Prostate biopsies are routinely done on an outpatient basis and rarely require hospitalization. Fifty-five percent of men report discomfort during prostate biopsy.
The tissue samples are then examined under a microscope to determine whether cancer cells are present, and to evaluate the microscopic features (or Gleason score) of any cancer found. Prostate specific membrane antigen is a transmembrane carboxypeptidase and exhibits folate hydrolase activity. This protein is overexpressed in prostate cancer tissues and is associated with a higher Gleason score.
Tissue samples can be stained for the presence of PSA and other tumor markers in order to determine the origin of maligant cells that have metastasized. Small cell carcinoma is a type of prostate cancer that cannot be diagnosed using the PSA. Currently researchers are trying to determine the best way to screen for this type of prostate cancer because it is a relatively unknown and rare type of prostate cancer but very serious and quick to spread to other parts of the body.
Prostate mapping is a method of diagnosis that may be accurate in determining the precise location and aggressiveness of a tumor. It uses a combination of multi-sequence MRI imaging techniques and a template-guided biopsy system, and involves taking multiple biopsies through the skin that lies in front of the rectum rather than through the rectum itself. The procedure is carried out under general anesthetic.
- Prostate cancer screening is an attempt to find unsuspected cancers. Screening tests may lead to more specific follow-up tests such as a biopsy, where small cores of the prostate are removed for closer study. Prostate cancer screening options include the digital rectal exam and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Screening for prostate cancer is controversial because it is expensive and it is not at all clear whether the benefits of screening outweigh the risks of follow-up diagnostic tests and cancer treatments and the unnecessary worry for the patient that often ensues.
- Prostate cancer is usually a slow-growing cancer, very common among older men. In fact, most prostate cancers never grow to the point where they cause symptoms, and most men with prostate cancer die of other causes before prostate cancer has an impact on their lives. The PSA screening test may detect these small cancers that would never become life-threatening. Doing the PSA test in these men may lead to overdiagnosis, including additional testing and treatment. Follow-up tests, such as prostate biopsy, may cause pain, bleeding and infection. Prostate cancer treatments may cause urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. A large randomized study in which 76,000 men were randomized to receive either PSA screening or conventional care found that more men that underwent PSA screening were diagnosed with prostate cancer, but that there was no difference in mortality between the two groups.
- Treatment for prostate cancer may involve active surveillance, surgery (i.e. radical prostatectomy), radiation therapy including brachytherapy (prostate brachytherapy) and external beam radiation therapy, High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), chemotherapy, oral chemotherapeutic drugs (Temozolomide/TMZ), positron emission tomography, cryosurgery, hormonal therapy, or some combination. Which option is best depends on the stage of the disease, the Gleason score, and the PSA level. Other important factors are the man’s age, his general health, and his feelings about potential treatments and their possible side-effects. Because all treatments can have significant side-effects, such as erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence, treatment discussions often focus on balancing the goals of therapy with the risks of lifestyle alterations. Prostate cancer patients are strongly recommended to work closely with their urologist and use a combination of the treatment options when managing their prostate cancer.
- The selection of treatment options may be a complex decision involving many factors. For example, radical prostatectomy after primary radiation failure is a very technically challenging surgery and may not be an option. This may enter into the treatment decision.
- If the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, treatment options significantly change, so most doctors that treat prostate cancer use a variety of nomograms to predict the probability of spread. Treatment by watchful waiting/active surveillance, HIFU, external beam radiation therapy, brachytherapy, cryosurgery, and surgery are, in general, offered to men whose cancer remains within the prostate. Hormonal therapy and chemotherapy are often reserved for disease that has spread beyond the prostate. However, there are exceptions: radiation therapy may be used for some advanced tumors, and hormonal therapy is used for some early stage tumors. Cryotherapy (the process of freezing the tumor), hormonal therapy, and chemotherapy may also be offered if initial treatment fails and the cancer progresses.
Prostate cancer rates are higher and prognosis poorer in developed countries than the rest of the world. Many of the risk factors for prostate cancer are more prevalent in the developed world, including longer life expectancy and diets high in red meat and reduced-fat dairy products to which vitamin A palmitate has been added. (People that consume larger amounts of meat and dairy also tend to consume fewer portions of fruits and vegetables. It is not currently clear whether both of these factors, or just one of them, contribute to the occurrence of prostate cancer.) Also, where there is more access to screening programs, there is a higher detection rate. Prostate cancer is the ninth-most-common cancer in the world, but is the number-one non-skin cancer in United States men. Prostate cancer affected eighteen percent of American men and caused death in three percent in 2005. In Japan, death from prostate cancer was one-fifth to one-half the rates in the United States and Europe in the 1990s. In India in the 1990s, half of the people with prostate cancer confined to the prostate died within ten years. African-American men have 50–60 times more prostate cancer and prostate cancer deaths than men in Shanghai, China. In Nigeria, two percent of men develop prostate cancer and 64% of them are dead after two years.