Prostate cancer is as common in men as breast cancer is in women. Prostate cancer arises in the prostate gland, a male sex organ than produces a thick fluid that makes up most of semen. It is located between the bladder and rectum. A normal sized prostate is about the size of a walnut. The urethra, a tube that drains urine from the bladder during urination, passes through the prostate.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
Interference with urinary flow is usually caused by a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Symptoms associated with BPH include frequency of urination, inability to completely empty the bladder, a weak urinary stream and frequent urination during the night. Prostate cancer can cause similar symptoms. Diabetes, other medical conditions and some medications also can cause some of these symptoms.
The prostate, like all other organs of the body, is made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells divide in an orderly and controlled fashion to produce more cells only when they are needed. This process helps to keep the body healthy. Cancer is a group of diseases that have two things in common: Cells become abnormal and then begin to divide and grow uncontrollably. When this happens a malignant lump or tumor may appear. In the case of prostate cancer, sometimes a nodule or firm area can be felt during a digital rectal exam (DRE).
Cancer cells may invade and damage the healthy surrounding tissue. In the case of prostate cancer, the adjacent normal tissues include the surrounding fat and muscle, the nerves that stimulate an erection (located in the neuro-vascular bundle), the seminal vesicles, (sacs that sit on top of the prostate that store the seminal fluid that is ejaculated during sex), the bladder and the urethra. Cancer cells also can be released into the blood stream or into lymphatic channels and spread to other parts of the body. This process is called metastasis. When prostate cancer metastasizes, it most commonly spreads to the pelvic lymph nodes and the bones.
Prostate Cancer Symptoms
Most men with prostate cancer have no obvious symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they may be a lot like the symptoms of BPH and include:
- Trouble passing urine
- Frequent urge to pass urine, especially at night
- Weak or interrupted urine stream
- Pain or burning when passing urine
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Painful ejaculation
- Nagging pain in the back, hips or pelvis
Since prostate cancer can spread to the bones, bone pain - especially in the back - can be another symptom.