Prostate cancer develops in the prostate gland, a part of the reproductive system in men and people assigned male at birth. Many people choose active surveillance (no treatment) because prostate cancer tends to grow slowly and stay in the gland. For cancers that grow fast and spread, common treatments include radiation and surgery.
Prostate cancer develops in the prostate, a small walnut-shaped gland located below the bladder and in front of the rectum in men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB). This tiny gland secretes fluid that mixes with semen, keeping sperm healthy for conception and pregnancy.
Prostate cancer is a serious disease. Fortunately, most people with prostate cancer get diagnosed before it spreads beyond their prostate gland. Treatment at this stage often eliminates the cancer.
If you’re diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s most likely an adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinomas start in the cells of glands — like your prostate — that secrete fluid. Rarely, prostate cancer forms from other types of cells.
Less common types of prostate cancers include:
Prostate cancer is common, second only to skin cancer as the most common cancer affecting men and people AMAB. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for every 100 people with prostates, 13 will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lives. Most will live normal lives and eventually die from causes unrelated to prostate cancer. Some won’t need treatment.
Still, approximately 34,000 people in the United States die from prostate cancer each year.
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Early-stage prostate cancer rarely causes symptoms. These issues may occur as the disease progresses:
Not all growths in your prostate are cancer. Other conditions that cause symptoms similar to prostate cancer include:
Experts aren’t sure what causes cells in your prostate to become cancer cells. As with cancer in general, prostate cancer forms when cells divide faster than usual. While normal cells eventually die, cancer cells don’t. Instead, they multiply and grow into a lump called a tumor. As the cells continue to multiply, parts of the tumor can break off and spread to other parts of your body (metastasize).
Luckily, prostate cancer usually grows slowly. Most tumors are diagnosed before the cancer has spread beyond your prostate. Prostate cancer is highly treatable at this stage.
The most common risk factors include:
Some studies have identified other prostate cancer risk factors, but the evidence is mixed. Other potential risk factors include:
Screenings can help catch prostate cancer early. If you’re average risk, you’ll probably have your first screening test at age 55. You may need earlier screenings if you’re in a high-risk group. Screenings usually stop after age 70.
You may need additional tests or procedures if screenings show you may have prostate cancer.
Screening tests can show whether you have signs of prostate cancer that require more testing.
Not everyone who likely has prostate cancer will need a definitive diagnosis. For example, if your provider thinks your tumor is growing slowly, they may delay more testing because it’s not serious enough to require treatment. If it’s more aggressive (growing fast or spreading), you may need additional tests, including a biopsy.
Not everyone who likely has prostate cancer will need a definitive diagnosis. For example, if your tumor is thought to be slow growing, your provider may delay more testing because it’s not serious enough to require treatment. If it’s more aggressive (growing fast or spreading), you may need additional tests, including a biopsy.
The Gleason score allows your provider to rate how abnormal your cancer cells are. The more abnormal cells you have, the higher your Gleason score. The Gleason score allows your provider to determine the grade of your cancer, or its potential to be aggressive.
Staging prostate cancer
Cancer staging allows your provider to determine how advanced your cancer is, or how much it’s spread. Cancer may be in your prostate gland only (local), invading nearby structures (regional) or spread to other organs (metastasized). Prostate cancer most commonly spreads to your bones and lymph nodes. It can also develop in your liver, brain, lungs and other organs.
Your treatment depends on multiple factors, including your overall condition, if the cancer’s spread and how fast it’s spreading. Depending on your treatments, you may work with various healthcare providers, including urologists, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists. Most prostate cancer diagnosed in the early stages can be cured with treatment.
Your healthcare provider may monitor your condition instead of providing treatment if your cancer grows slowly and doesn’t spread.
A radical prostatectomy removes a diseased prostate gland. It can often successfully eliminate prostate cancers that haven’t spread. Your provider can recommend the best removal method if they believe you’d benefit from this surgery.
You may receive radiation therapy as a standalone treatment for prostate cancer or in combination with other treatments. Radiation can also provide symptom relief.
Your provider may recommend systemic therapies if cancer has spread outside your prostate gland. Systemic therapies send substances throughout your body to destroy cancer cells or prevent their growth.
Focal therapy is a newer form of treatment that destroys tumors inside your prostate. Your healthcare provider may recommend this treatment if the cancer is low-risk and hasn’t spread. Many of these treatments are still considered experimental.
Potential side effects include:
Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing treatment side effects. Often, they can recommend medicines and procedures that can help.
Preventing prostate cancer isn’t possible. Still, taking these steps may reduce your risk:
Your outlook is excellent if your healthcare provider detects prostate cancer early. Almost everyone — 99% — diagnosed with cancer that hasn’t spread outside of their prostate live at least five years after diagnosis.
Prostate cancer survival rates aren’t as good when the cancer’s metastasized, or spread outside of your prostate. Thirty-two percent of people with metastatic prostate cancer are alive five years later.
Yes, if it’s caught early. In some cases, cancer grows so slowly that you may not need treatment right away. Treatment can often eliminate prostate cancers that haven’t spread beyond the prostate gland.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
If you have prostate cancer, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
With early diagnosis and treatment, prostate cancer is often highly curable. Many people diagnosed when the cancer hasn’t spread beyond their prostate go on to live normal, cancer-free lives for several years following treatment. Still, for a small number of people, the disease can be aggressive and spread quickly to other body parts. Your healthcare provider can discuss the best screening schedule based on your risk factors. They can recommend the best treatment options based on how slow growing or aggressive your cancer is.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/17/2023.
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