Prostate Cancer – What It Is and How to Test for It

Prostate cancer! What is it? How is it tested for? Everyone knows what breast cancer is and that a self-breast exam and mammogram are used to detect it. But prostate cancer doesn’t get quite as much press. So here’s what you need to know about prostate cancer.

What Is Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer only affects men. This is because only men have a prostate. The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system which sits just under the bladder in front of the rectum.

Prostate cancer is a very slow developing disease. The most common form of prostate cancer is adenocarcinoma. This cancer develops in the gland cells which make the fluid that is added to the semen.

Other types of cancer can start in the prostate gland – cancers like sarcomas, small cell carcinomas, and transitional cell carcinomas. This is extremely rare, though. Most types of prostate cancer are adenocarcinoma.

What Are the Warning Signs of Prostate cancer?

Because of how slowly prostate cancer can develop, many times men die of old age or something else never knowing they even had prostate cancer. However, that’s not always the case and it’s important to know the warning signs of prostate cancer:

* Increased frequency of urination
* And urgency to urinate
* Urinating multiple times during the night
* Hesitating to urinate. Having a hard time starting the flow
* Blood in urine
* Blood in semen
* New onset of erectile dysfunction
* Pain in the bones of the lower back, hips, and/or ribs
* Loss of bladder control

All of these could be signs of something else, of course, but you should see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms and know that they might test you for prostate cancer.

What Tests Are Performed to Diagnose Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer can be found by determining how much PSA (Prostate-Specific-Antigen) is in the blood. PSA is a substance that is made by the cells in the prostate gland. When levels increase, this could be a sign of prostate cancer. But since other things can increase the production of PSA in the blood, such as an enlarged prostate or older age, this isn’t always accurate. Your doctor might recommend that the test be performed at a later date, or he might send you for a biopsy of your prostate.

Another way to screen for prostate cancer is through a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE). This is the exam every man dreads, where a gloved finger is stuck in the rectum and the prostate gland is felt. This exam is less effective than the PSA test is, but both tests can give false positives or negatives in many cases. So it’s important to discuss your options with your doctor.

It’s the best we’ve got for early detection. For most men, discussion of testing should begin around the age of 50. However, if you have a family history of prostate cancer, then discussions with your doctor should begin by the age of 45. It’s up to you if you get screened. Because prostate cancer develops so slowly, it might not be necessary to go through screenings which can cause anxiety or tell you you don’t have it when you do.

If your doctor does suspect you have prostate cancer, then he will send you for a biopsy of the prostate. That’s the most accurate way to determine what’s going on with the prostate if you have one of the symptoms listed above.

The bottom line with prostate cancer is it has a very high survival rate. You will most likely succumb to old age before you would to prostate cancer. But you should always be aware of the symptoms your body is presenting with and your family history and discuss all of this with your doctor. Because no matter what – as with all cancer, the earlier it’s detected, the easier it is to treat.