Prostate cancer, not to be confused with Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), is the most common kind of cancer in men and it affects the prostate gland, which is part of the male reproductive system. The size of a healthy prostate is similar to a hazelnut, and has the shape of a “donut.” The urethra — the tube where urine flows through — passes through the prostate gland. If the prostate increases in size, it will constrict the urethra, and may cause urinating problems, such as diminishing or stopping the flow of urine from the bladder to the penis.

The prostate gland is responsible for creating part of the seminal fluid. During ejaculation, the seminal fluid helps in the transportation of spermatozoids, until it’s released to the exterior. Androgen, the male hormone, causes the prostate to grow. The testicles are the main source of male hormones, including testosterone. The adrenal glandes also produce testosterone, but in small quantities.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) is the abnormal growth of benign prostatic cells. When a patient suffers from BPH, the prostate gland increases its volume, causing pressure against the bladder and urethra. BPH is a very common problem: most of men over 50 years old present symptoms and some will need treatment.

When prostate cancer spreads, or metastasizes out of the gland, cancer cells are often found in nearby lymph nodes. If the cancer has reached these nodes, it is likely that cancer cells have metastasized through the lymphatic system to other lymph nodes, bones, or other organs.

Prostate cancer symptoms

Usually, the initial stages of prostate cancer do not present with pain. Although, after the metastases begins to spread, it is common to find symptoms like the frequent need to urinate, especially at night; weak urine flow or intermittent; pain and burning sensation during urination; blood in urine or semen; frequent pain in the lower back, hips or upper thighs; inability to urinate or difficulty starting or stopping urine flow. In most cases, these symptoms are not related to prostate cancer, and may also be caused by benign tumors or other problems. Only a doctor can confirm a diagnosis.

Prostate cancer diagnosis

If symptoms or test results suggest that someone may have prostate cancer, the doctor will inquire with the patient about family and medical history, perform a physical examination, and ask for laboratory tests. The exams and tests may include a digital rectal examination, urine analysis to detect blood or an infection, and blood tests to measure the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA), a protein produced by prostate.

Other tests, as a trans-rectal ultrasound, a cystoscopy, or a biopsy may also be required. In the first instance, the doctor inserts a probe into the rectum to detect abnormal areas; during a cystoscopy, the doctor examines the interior of the urethra and bladder, through a thin tube and light. A biopsy involves the removal of tissue to search for cancer cells. In order to perform a biopsy, the doctor must insert a needle through the rectum into the prostate and remove a small amount of tissue. After the collection, a pathologist will look for cancerous cells in the tissue, using a microscope. A biopsy is the only reliable method of diagnosing prostate cancer.

Prostate Cancer treatment

The treatment of prostate cancer may involve surgery, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy and chemotherapy, or merely observation, depending on the severity. It’s also possible to design and implement combined therapies.

Regardless of the stage of the disease, a person with prostate cancer is often prescribed medicine to fight some symptoms, to relieve side effects of cancer treatment, and to mitigate any emotional distress. These treatments are usually described as supportive care, symptom control, and palliative care.

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