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What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate gland start to grow uncontrollably. The prostate gland is only found in males and part of its role is to make some of the fluid that is part of semen. The size of the prostate changes with age. In younger men, it is about the size of a walnut, but it can be much larger in older men.

Some prostate cancers can grow and spread quickly, but most grow slowly. In fact, autopsy studies show that many older men (and even some younger men) who died of other causes also had prostate cancer that never affected them during their lives. In many cases, neither they nor their doctors even knew they had it.

Types of prostate cancer

Almost all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas. These cancers develop from the gland cells (the cells that make the prostate fluid that is added to the semen).

Other types of prostate cancer include:

  • Sarcomas
  • Small cell carcinomas
  • Neuroendocrine tumors (other than small cell carcinomas)
  • Transitional cell carcinomas

These other types of prostate cancer are rare. If you have prostate cancer it is likely to be an adenocarcinoma.

Prostate cancer risk factors

Researchers have found several factors that might affect a man’s risk of getting prostate cancer.


Prostate cancer is rare in men younger than 40, but the chance of having prostate cancer rises after age 50. About 60% of prostate cancer cases of are found in men older than 65.


Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men and in Caribbean men of African ancestry than in men of other races. African-Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino men than in non-Hispanic white men. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not clear.

Family history:

Prostate cancer seems to run in some families, which suggests that in certain cases there may be an inherited genetic factor. However, most prostate cancers occur in men without a family history of it. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease. The risk is much higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young when the cancer was found.

Gene changes:

Several inherited gene changes seem to raise prostate cancer risk, but they probably account for only a small percentage of cases overall.

Factors with less clear effect on prostate cancer risk

  • Diet
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Chemical exposures
  • Inflammation of the prostate
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Vasectomy

Please discuss the above risk factors with your doctor to see if certain lifestyle changes could help lower your risk of developing prostate cancer.

Can prostate cancer be found early?

Screening is testing to find cancer in people before they have symptoms. For some types of cancer, screening can help find cancers at an early stage, when they are likely to be easier to treat.

Prostate cancer can often be found before symptoms arise by testing the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in a man’s blood. Another way to find prostate cancer is the digital rectal exam (DRE), in which the doctor puts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland.

If the results of either of these tests are abnormal, further testing is often done to see if a man has cancer. If prostate cancer is found as a result of screening with the PSA test or DRE, it will probably be at an earlier, more treatable stage than if no screening were done.

Prostate Cancer Treatment

Once your prostate cancer has been diagnosed and staged, you have a lot to think about before you and your doctor chooses a treatment plan. It’s important that you think carefully about each of your choices. You will want to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.

Which treatments are used for prostate cancer?

Depending on the situation, the treatment options for men with prostate cancer might include:

  • Watchful waiting or active surveillance
  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Cryotherapy (cryosurgery)
  • Hormone therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Vaccine treatment
  • Bone-directed treatment

These treatments are generally used one at a time, although in some cases they may be combined.

Which doctors treat prostate cancer?

The main types of doctors who treat prostate cancer include:

  • Urologists: surgeons who treat diseases of the urinary system and male reproductive system (including the prostate)
  • Radiation oncologists: doctors who treat cancer with radiation therapy
  • Medical oncologists: doctors who treat cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy

Learn More! - Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer

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Some of the content contained in this section has been adapted from the following sources:
“What is prostate cancer.” Learn About Cancer. American Cancer Society, Inc. 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 6 June 2016.
“Prostate Cancer.” Cancer Facts and Information. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. 2016. Web. 6 June 2016.
“Prostate Cancer.” Diseases and Conditions – Prostate Cancers. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 2016. Web. 6 June 2016.