One of the most common types of cancer in men, Prostate cancer generally grows and spreads slowly and often remains confined to the prostate gland. In such cases, it may not cause much danger. However, there are certain other types of Prostate cancer which are very aggressive and can spread rather quickly.
Early detection of Prostate cancer offers better chances for successful treatment.
Prostate cancer is mainly caused when some of the cells in the prostate become abnormal. Due to the mutations in the DNA of these abnormal cells, they tend to develop and divide very rapidly in comparison to the normal cells. While the abnormal cells multiply, the normal cells would begin to die. The faster accumulation of abnormal cells could result in a tumor that can spread to the nearby tissues, thus damaging them too. Certain abnormal cells can even metastasize i.e. break off and spread to various other parts of the body.
- Trouble in urinating
- Reduced stream of urine
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Swelling or inflammation in the legs
- Discomfort in the pelvic region
- Bone pain
Who are at risk ?
- Old age: Prostate cancer is common in men who are above 65 years.
- Black men are at a greater risk of prostate cancer when compared to men of other races. In black men, prostate cancer tends to be more advanced.
- Family history of prostate cancer
Complications of prostate cancer
Prostate cancer can spread to the various organs in the body. It can travel through your bloodstream or lymphatic system and spread to your bones. Moreover, it can block the ureters that transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder, thus resulting in kidney problems. If the prostate cancer is in an advanced stage, it can cause extreme fatigue, weakness and weight loss, pain and broken bones.
Incontinence: Prostate cancer and its treatment can result in urinary incontinence. Treatment for urinary incontinence may include medications, catheters and surgery.
Erectile dysfunction: Prostate cancer or its treatment including surgery, radiation or hormone treatments could lead to erectile dysfunction. However, certain medications and vacuum devices that help in achieving erection and surgery are available for the treatment of erectile dysfunction.
If you are suffering from either of these symptoms, consult your family doctor or a general practitioner. If your physician suspects that you are having a problem with your prostate, you would be referred to an urologist. In case you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, you would be referred to an oncologist or a radiation oncologist.
Diagnosis of Prostate Cancer
Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)
The rectum is located close to the prostate gland. The doctor will examine if there are any abnormalities in your rectum. If your prostate gland is cancerous, it may feel very hard and knobbly. In an individual who is suffering from Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), the rectum is generally enlarged, firm and smooth. However, very often, the prostate may feel quite normal, even though cancer cells are present.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests
A sample of your blood is taken to check for prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Prostate-specific antigen is a protein produced by the prostate. A small amount of PSA is generally found in blood. Men who have Prostate cancer tend to have more amount of PSA in their blood. However, the PSA test cannot be always relied upon and sometimes, men who have prostate cancer will have normal PSA. The increase in the PSA level could be also due to several other factors such as urine infections, recent prostate biopsies, having a urinary catheter, prostate or bladder surgery or a prostatic massage. PSA levels higher than normal could be mostly due to prostate cancer and a biopsy would often be recommended. Men who have PSA levels of 5 ng/ml or above are mostly referred for further tests.
Trans-rectal Ultrasound Scan (TRUS)
Ultrasound scans make use of sound waves to create an image of a certain region or organ inside the body. A small probe is inserted into the rectum and an image of the prostate gets displayed on a screen. The TRUS scan is mainly used to assess the size and density of the prostate.
If the initial tests reveal that there is a possibility of cancer, you may be recommended a biopsy. In this process, numerous samples of tissue (generally around 12) are extracted from the prostate for careful inspection under a microscope. The biopsy is usually performed at the same time as the ultrasound scan.
Diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer
If the biopsy shows the presence of prostate cancer, several tests may be required to determine whether the disease has spread to other organs/regions in the body. These tests include.
- Isotope bone scan
- MRI scan
- CT scan
Treatment options for early prostate cancer
The major treatment options for early prostate cancer include:
- Watchful waiting
- Surgery or removal of the prostate gland
- External beam radiotherapy
If the prostate cancer is likely to develop and spread slowly and if you are elderly and not good enough for treatment such as surgery or radiotherapy, you may be recommended watchful waiting. In case the symptoms start developing, you may required to undergo treatment, such as hormonal therapy, For older men, hormonal therapy may be recommended after radiotherapy.
Young people who have low-grade early prostate cancer may be recommended active surveillance. If the cancer starts to progress, they will be asked to undergo surgery or radiotherapy.
People who have moderate- to high-grade cancer are likely to be recommended Radical Prostatectomy or surgery to completely remove the prostate gland or radiotherapy of the prostate. These treatments help to eliminate all the cancer cells and thus cure the cancer. The radiotherapy can be given to the patient using an external machine or even directly into the prostate gland. This process is known as Brachytherapy.
Although for some people these treatments will cure the cancer, in certain others some of the cancer cells may still be left behind after the treatment. In some others, the treatment may help to do away with all the cancer cells for a certain period of time, but the cancer may regenerate in the future. Cryotherapy or high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) treatment can also be offered to people who are in the early stage of prostate cancer.
Treatment options for men with locally-advanced prostate cancer
There are numerous factors which need to be taken into account prior to deciding the best treatment options. This includes:
- Your physical health
- The stage and grade of the prostate cancer
- The PSA level
- The potential risks or side effects of treatment
- Whether you had treatment before.
The treatment options for locally-advanced prostate cancer mainly include Radiotherapy, Hormonal therapy, Watchful waiting and Surgery. Sometimes, different combination of treatments will be provided to the patient.
It is extremely important for you to be fully aware of the benefits, disadvantages and side effects of each of these treatments before you decide on the treatment. Your doctor or specialist nurse will provide you detailed information on the various treatments.
Treatment for Advanced Prostrate Cancer
The treatment options for advanced prostate cancer mainly include Hormonal therapy, Surgery, Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy and controlling symptoms. Surgery to remove the prostate gland is not recommended for men with advanced prostate cancer. However, a transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) can help to relieve problems associated with passing urine.
Unfortunately, if prostate cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland and has severely affected other parts of the body, it cannot be cured. However, you can undergo treatment to control the cancer for several years and relieve the symptoms if any. This will help to improve the quality of your life.