What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer plainly put is cancer that occurs in the prostate gland. The prostate is small; it is a walnut-shaped gland in males that produces semen and provides nourishment to and transports sperm.
Like any cancer, prostate cancer begins when a cell with damaged DNA begins to duplicate at a rapid rate due to the damage. These cells continue to divide unchecked, and eventually form a tumor. If left untreated, these cells will continue to grow into surrounding tissues, damaging them. These cells also can metastasize, or travel to other parts of the body and begin growing there.
Early-stage prostate cancer may have little to no symptoms. For progressed, later stage prostate cancer, symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Trouble urinating
- Slow stream of urine, decreased force when urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Blood in the semen
- Bone pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Erectile disfunction
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancer types, affecting only the male sex. This cancer type often develops slowly and is confined to the prostate gland itself, which when caught early, has been seen to not cause much harm. However, if prostate cancer is left unnoticed or untreated, it can develop into a serious case that can spread quickly, and is more aggressive,
Who is Impacted?
In a short sense, any individual that has a prostate gland has the possibility of developing prostate cancer.
However, there are certain risk factors associated with prostate cancer, including:
- Those of older age. Your risk for developing prostate cancer increases as you age and is most seen in patients above the age of 50.
- For unknown reasons, black people show higher rates of developing prostate cancer than all other racial groups. In addition, black people show higher rates of developing aggressive or more advanced forms of it.
- Family history plays a crucial role. If a blood relative of yours, such as a parent or sibling, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may be at increased risk. In addition, if you have a family history of genes that are associated with breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a family history of breast cancer, your risk for prostate cancer is also elevated.
- Obesity is another risk factor. Obese individuals have a higher chance of developing aggressive prostate cancers, and studies have shown these individuals are more likely to see it return after treatment.
You might be thinking, what is a screening, and how can it help?
The goal of a screening is to detect cancer early, so that it can be taken care of early. The later cancer is detected, the more likely it is that it has developed into a stage that is more detrimental to your health. Screenings mitigate the likelihood of you developing a late-stage cancer, because screenings are typically conducted before the patient has any symptoms of the disease.
Individuals that are showing symptoms of prostate cancer should schedule a screening immediately. Showing symptoms of prostate cancer can be scary but scheduling a screening will allow the soonest possible diagnoses and the highest shot you have at survival, should the symptoms be caused by it.
Two types of screenings exist.
If one of these screenings produces an abnormality, your doctor may complete further tests to determine if you have prostate cancer or not.
Ultrasounds are commonly used; during a transrectal ultrasound, a small probe is inserted into the rectum and uses sound waves to produce a picture of the prostate gland. This probe is about the size of a cigar.
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is another common method for detecting prostate cancer. MRI is used to create a more detailed image than ultrasound can create and may assist your doctor in determining his or her plan to remove prostate tissue samples for testing.
Collecting a sample of prostate tissue is used to determine once and for all if there are cancer cells in the prostate. This is called prostate biopsy, and it uses a thin needle to collect tissue from the prostate itself. This tissue sample is analyzed by lab technicians to identify if cancer is present or not.
What determines if the cancer is aggressive? The aggressiveness of the cancer is termed its grade, and the grade is assigned by a doctor who examines a sample of the cancer cells to determine how much cancer cells differ from healthy cells. How changed are they?
The Gleason score is the most common scale used to evaluate the grade of prostate cancer cells. It combines two numbers, and ranges from two to ten, two being nonaggressive, and ten being extremely aggressive. Most prostate cancer biopsy samples come in between six and ten, and commonly, a six indicated low grade, a seven indicated medium grade, and eight to ten indicate high-grade, aggressive prostate cancer cells.
Genomic testing is another method used to identify the mutations in prostate cancer cells. This testing analyzes your prostate cancer cells to determine how genetically different it is from healthy cells, or how the DNA itself is changed. This test provides the doctor with more information about your specific prognosis, but these tests are not commonly used and are not necessary for every individual with prostate cancer.
You can reduce your risk by implementing lifestyle changes in your everyday life. Not only do these tips reduce your risk of prostate cancer, but they also improve your health overall.
Eating well is important. You have heard this since you were in school, I am sure, that you need to eat a well-rounded diet. Including a variety of fruits, veggies, and whole grains in your diet improves your health as well as your gut health. The more processed foods that you ingest without eating a variety of fruits and vegetables decrease the vitamins and nutrients that your body receives. Full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, these foods play a role in your health and in turn, cancer prevention. Supplements have been shown to not play a role in reducing your risk.
Exercising is another way to mitigate your risk of developing prostate cancer. Doctors recommend individuals should exercise 30 minutes a day. This could be a brisk walk outside, a powerlift at the gym, a short yoga session in your living room, or whatever else you desire that gets you up and moving. Exercising does not have to be an activity to dread. In fact, exercise releases hormones, such as endorphins, adrenaline, dopamine, and more, that are associated with the feeling of happiness.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important to mitigate adverse health effects, and to reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer. Exercise can help with this, as can eating well. This applies for both underweight and overweight individuals – aim to achieve a healthy weight and a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index) to keep your body in the best state you can.
These tips are all personal. Each of them you must choose to implement, and you must choose to commit to. This is not something you do for others; improving your personal health is a task you must do for yourself alone. If you find that you are lacking in one or more of these points, that does not mean you are doomed. Begin to implement them slowly and incorporate them into your life over time. If it is best for you, choose one to implement and stick to it. After mastering one, select another to add to your routine.
Personal health is a huge factor when considering any disease, and prostate cancer is not an exception. Talk to your doctor about your physical health and ask them any questions you have about these topics and their role in prostate cancer prevention.
Talking to your doctor is most necessary if you are at an increased risk of developing prostate cancer, so you can consider medications or treatments that reduce your risk.