Prostate cancer is a malignancy that develops in the prostate gland, a gland that is important for the proper function of the male reproductive tract.
Cancer of the prostate is the most common cancer among American men affecting about one in five men during the course of a lifetime. Although incidence increases with age, this cancer can occur in younger men as well. This form of cancer very often occurs even without symptoms.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland located just below the bladder and just in front of the rectum. The prostate secretes fluids and enzymes that make up approximately one third of the spermatic fluid leaving the body during ejaculation.
The sperm in the ejaculate is made in the testicles and transported through a tube called the vas deferens. This tube also passes through and receives contributions from the prostate before reaching the urethra. The urethra is the tube inside the penis through which urine and ejaculate pass.
The seminal vesicles are glands that lie right behind and slightly above the prostate. These glands also secrete fluids, which are added to the ejaculate. Because of the proximity and direct physical connection to the prostate, cancer can sometimes spread to the seminal vesicles or the prostate capsule (fibrous capsule that surrounds the prostate). If this occurs, surgery is usually unable to remove the entirety of the cancer.
Because the prostate is situated immediately in front of the rectum, the doctor can feel the contour of the prostate when he or she performs a rectal examination. A normal prostate gland is smooth and firm, but not hard.
Who Gets Prostate Cancer?
The cause of prostate cancer is not yet known. However, doctors do know that certain factors increase the risk of getting the cancer. One factor is a family history of prostate cancer.
If the patient has a father or brother with the disease, his chances of developing prostate cancer are two times greater. Older men are also at greater risk. Three quarters of all reported cases occur in men age 65 and older.
There is evidence that suggests that prostate cancer may be related to male hormone levels. Eunuchs (men that have been castrated) do not get the disease, suggesting that the male hormones produced by the testicles influence the development of prostate cancer. Men with severe liver disease leading to increased blood levels of estrogen (the female sex hormone) have a decreased risk in prostate cancer.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
In its early stages, and when limited to the prostate gland alone, prostate cancer rarely causes any symptoms. An annual checkup, for men over the age of 50, is advised and in cases where there are known risks factors for the condition, even earlier in life. If the cancer has grown to involve the urethra or bladder outlet it may cause a change in urination patterns affecting the force, urgency or frequency of urination. Never ignore these symptoms, and ensure that you make your doctor aware of any changes in your urine flow pattern.
Mens Clinic International has clinics around South Africa, and offers a helpline on 0860 362867 or +27 11 523 5100.