What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer develops in the prostate, a small walnut-shaped gland that’s part of a man’s reproductive system. Prostate cancer is very common, affecting one out of every nine men.

What is the prostate gland?

The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. The gland makes fluid that mixes with semen during ejaculation. This fluid helps protect sperm and keeps it healthy for conception and pregnancy.

Where is the prostate gland?

The prostate gland sits below a man’s bladder in front of the rectum. The urethra runs through the center of the prostate gland. This tube carries urine and semen through the penis and out of the body. The seminal vesicles that make semen sit behind the prostate gland.

How common is prostate cancer?

About one in nine men will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis during his lifetime. Prostate cancer is second only to skin cancer as the most common cancer affecting males. Close to 200,000 American men receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer every year. There are many successful treatments — and some men don’t need treatment at all. Still, approximately 33,000 men die from the disease every year.

Who might have prostate cancer?

Men over the age of 55 are more prone to the disease. Your chances of developing prostate cancer increase as you age. In fact, 60% of prostate cancers occur in men over the age of 65. Other risk factors include:

  • Ethnicity (black men have the highest risk).
  • Family history of prostate cancer.
  • Obesity.
  • Smoking.

What are the types of prostate cancer?

Almost all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas (malignant tumors). This type of cancer starts in the cells of glands that make secretions. Rarely, other types of cancer develop in the prostate. These include:

  • Small cell carcinomas.
  • Transitional cell carcinomas.
  • Neuroendocrine tumors.
  • Sarcomas.

What causes prostate cancer?

Experts aren’t sure why some cells in the prostate gland become cancerous (malignant). Genetics appear to play a role. For example:

  • You’re two to three times more likely to get prostate cancer if your father, brother or son has the disease.
  • Inherited mutated (changed) breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) and other gene mutations contribute to a small number of prostate cancers.

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Early-stage prostate cancer rarely causes symptoms. These problems may occur as the disease progresses:

  • Frequent, sometimes urgent, need to urinate, especially at night.
  • Weak urine flow or flow that starts and stops.
  • Painful urination (dysuria).
  • Fecal (bowel) incontinence.
  • Painful ejaculation and erectile dysfunction (ED).
  • Blood in semen (hematospermia) or urine.
  • Lower back pain, hip pain and chest pain.
  • Leg or feet numbness.

Are prostate problems always a sign of prostate cancer?

Not all growths in the prostate are cancerous, and not all prostate problems indicate cancer. Other conditions that cause similar prostate cancer symptoms include:

  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): At some point, almost every man will develop benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This condition enlarges the prostate gland but doesn’t increase cancer risk. The swollen gland squeezes the urethra and blocks the flow of semen and urine. Medications, and sometimes surgery, can help.
  • Prostatitis: Men younger than 50 are more prone to prostatitis, inflammation and swelling of the prostate gland. Bacterial infections are often the cause. Treatments include antibiotics or other medications.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy