Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in men. Some experts estimate that 1 in 6 men will have prostate cancer sometime in their life. The American Cancer Society predicts that approximately 165,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018 and that close to 30,000 men will die from it. The disease most commonly strikes men over the age of 65 and is more prevalent in African-American men. The good news is that, although cancer of the prostate is incredibly common, it’s also true that the prostate cancer prognosis is very good; prostate cancer is generally not fatal. Since it’s true that nearly everyone will be touched, directly or indirectly, by prostate cancer, it’s important to understand the facts.
The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system that makes and stores seminal fluid. The walnut-sized gland is located beneath the bladder and surrounds the upper part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. The prostate gland contains many other smaller glands that work together to produce about 30% of the fluid that makes up semen. In patients with prostate cancer, the normal cells in these smaller glands have mutated into cancer cells. In the beginning stages of prostate cancer, small clumps of cancer cells begin to develop, but remain confined within normal glands. This condition is known as carcinoma in situ or prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN). As the cancer progresses, the cancer cells multiply and begin to spread to the surrounding tissues and form a tumor, which may eventually grow large enough to interfere with the function of nearby organs. Like other cancers, prostate cancer cells can also metastasize to other parts of the body, most commonly bones and lymph nodes.
Prostate cancer causes are a source of much debate, and, for now, researchers and physicians cannot say for certain what causes prostate cancer. However, there is agreement on a set of risk factors that seem to consistently increase the likelihood of developing this form of cancer. These risk factors include the following:
- The risk of developing prostate cancer increases significantly with age. In fact, 50% of men between the ages of 70 and 80 show some evidence of malignancy.
- Prostate cancer is caused by a cell mutation, and, since genes control the functions of cells, genetics clearly play a role. DNA changes causing prostate cancer may be inherited or may be acquired during a man’s lifetime.
- There is a correlation between obesity and high-fat diets and rates of prostate cancer.
- For reasons that are as yet undetermined, black men have higher rates of prostate cancer in general and their cancers are more aggressive than other population groups.
While the prostate cancer causes are not completely understood, effective treatments for the disease are clearly established and, when utilized in the early stages of the disease, are highly effective. If you have any of these risk factors or have questions about the causes of prostate cancer and available treatment options, talk to your doctor today.