Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(10):1929-1930

See related article on prostate cancer.

What is prostate cancer?

The prostate is a gland that only men have. It surrounds a part of the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body (see figure below). Prostate cancer happens when cells in this gland grow out of control and clump together to form tumors. These tumors can kill your body’s healthy tissues and spread to other parts of your body.

Who gets prostate cancer?

One out of six men will get prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is found most often in men older than 65 years. Black men are more likely to get prostate cancer than white, Asian, or Hispanic men. If someone in your family (especially your father or brother) had prostate cancer, you have a greater risk of getting it.

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

If you have early prostate cancer, you may not have any symptoms. As the cancer grows, you might have painful urination and blood in the urine. If you have advanced prostate cancer, you may have pain in your hips and lower back.

How can my doctor tell if I have prostate cancer?

Sometimes, prostate cancer can be felt during a rectal exam. Your doctor also may do a blood test to check your levels of prostate-specific antigen (also called PSA). A high PSA level may mean that you have prostate cancer. But some men have high PSA levels because they have a large prostate. The only sure way to know if you have prostate cancer is to have a biopsy (a test done on a small sample of the prostate).

How is prostate cancer treated?

Prostate cancer can be treated with surgery or radiation therapy. Another option is “watchful waiting.” This means that you do not do anything to treat the cancer but see your doctor regularly. Older men and men with slow-growing cancer may choose watchful waiting. Men with faster-growing cancer should consider surgery or radiation. If the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, treatment will not cure the cancer.

What can I expect?

Patients with slow-growing cancer can expect to live as long as men who do not have cancer. Most patients with slow-growing cancer will never have symptoms. Patients with faster-growing cancer are at more risk of having symptoms and dying from prostate cancer. Surgery and radiation are equally good treatments. Patients can live for many years with no cancer symptoms after treatment. But, most patients will have long-term side effects from treatment. These include leaking of urine and stool, painful bowel movements, and trouble getting an erection. Talk to your doctor about which treatment is best for you.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor.

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute

American Urological Association

National Institutes of Health

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