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Prostate cancer occurs when cells within the prostate grow uncontrollably, creating a tumor mass. The term “cancer” refers to a condition in which the regulation of cell growth is lost and cells grow uncontrollably.
Most cells in the body are constantly dividing, maturing and then dying in a well regulated and controlled process. Unlike normal cells, the growth of cancer cells are no longer well-regulated. Instead of dying as they should, cancer cells outlive normal cells and continue to form new, abnormal cells.
Abnormal cell growths are called tumors. The term “primary tumor” refers to the original tumor; secondary tumors are caused when the original cancer spreads to other locations in the body. Prostate cancer typically begins with a small primary tumor confined in the prostate. At this stage, the disease is curable (rates of 90% or better) with standard interventions such as surgery or radiation that aim to remove or kill all cancerous cells in the prostate. Unfortunately, at this stage the cancer produces few or no symptoms and can be difficult to detect.
If untreated and allowed to grow, the cells from these tumors can spread in a process called metastasis. In this process, prostate cancer cells are transported through the lymphatic system and/or the bloodstream to other parts of the body, where they lodge and grow secondary tumors. Once the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, cure rates drop dramatically.
In most cases, prostate cancer is a relatively slow-growing cancer, which means that it typically takes a number of years for the disease to become large to be detectable and symptomatic, and even longer to spread beyond the prostate. This is good news. However, a small percentage of patients experience more rapidly growing, aggressive forms of prostate cancer. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know for sure which prostate cancers will grow slowly and which will grow aggressively – complicating treatment decisions.
It is the most common non-skin cancer in America, affecting 1 in 6 men. A non-smoking man is more likely to develop prostate cancer than he is to develop colon, bladder, melanoma, lymphoma and kidney cancers combined. In fact, a man is 35% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than a woman is to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
The purpose of screening for cancer is to detect the cancer at its earliest stages, before any symptoms have developed. Screening for prostate cancer can be performed quickly and easily in our office using two tests: the PSA – prostate-specific antigen blood test, and the digital rectal exam (DRE).
Some men may experience symptoms that might indicate BPH or prostatitis. These same symptoms may also suggest prostate cancer. Therefore a urologist must be consulted and an in-office biopsy may be needed following a PSA blood test and digital rectal exam if they are found to be abnormal.