Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. 2006;74(9):1569-1570

What is the prostate gland?

The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system(see the drawing below). The prostate makes a fluid that mixes with sperm and other fluids during ejaculation. A normal prostate is about the size of a walnut.

What is prostate cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells in the body grow out of control. This can happen in the prostate gland.

Prostate cancer can spread to other parts of the body. Patients with slow-growing cancer should live as long as men who don’t have cancer. Most patients with slow-growing cancer don’t have symptoms. Three out of four cases of prostate cancer are slow growing and are relatively harmless.

Possible Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

  • Having trouble when you start to urinate

  • Slower urine stream

  • Dribbling after urination

  • Frequent urination

  • Blood or pus in the urine

  • Pain or burning with urination

  • Pain with ejaculation

  • Hip or back pain that doesn’t go away over time

Who gets prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in American men. Men of any age can get prostate cancer, but it is most common in men older than 50. Black men are more likely to get it than white men. Men with a father or brother who has had prostate cancer also are more likely to get it.

How does my doctor check my prostate?

Your doctor may feel your prostate gland by putting a gloved, lubricated finger a few inches into your rectum. This is called a digital rectal exam. A normal prostate feels firm. If there are hard spots, your doctor may suspect cancer. Your doctor also can give you a blood test.

Who should be screened?

Screening means looking for cancer before it causes symptoms. Some doctors recommend screening for men at high risk (such as black men and men with a family member who has had prostate cancer).

Although screening finds many cases of cancer, it also finds less serious cancer or conditions that aren’t cancers. This means that some men may have to go through unneeded tests and worry to make sure that they don’t have cancer.

How do I decide whether to be screened?

Talk to your doctor. Many times, prostate cancer doesn’t cause problems or shorten a man’s life. Some men would rather not know they have cancer. Think about whether you would want to know. If you think you would want to know if you have prostate cancer, ask yourself whether you would want treatment.

Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of screening and treatment.

How is prostate cancer treated?

One option is “watchful waiting.” Watchful waiting means leaving the cancer alone and seeing your doctor regularly so he or she can check it. This may be a good option for older men and those with slow-growing cancer. At any time during watchful waiting, you can switch to a treatment.

Surgery, radiation, and medicines are other treatment options. Prostate cancer can be cured if it’s caught early. However, these treatments can cause serious problems with sex and urination. Surgery or radiation may help treat more serious cancers. Serious cancers are most often found in middle-age men.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

Mayo Clinic

National Cancer Institute

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