About Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the prostate. The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It is about the size of a walnut and surrounds the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder). The prostate gland produces fluid that makes up part of the semen.

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin malignancy in men and is responsible for more deaths than any other cancer, except for lung cancer. However, microscopic cancer is found at autopsy in many if not most men. Approximately 16% of American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer sometime in their life.

Treatment options and prognosis depend on the stage of the cancer, Gleason score, patient’s age, and general health. With greater public awareness, early detection is on the rise and mortality rates are declining. Additionally, new advances in medical technology are enabling cancer patients to go on to live active and productive lives after their treatment.

Causes of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is rare in men under 50 years old. However, the risk increases steadily with age. By the time they are 80, more than half of all men will have some cancerous growth, though in most cases it goes unnoticed. Prostate cancer is usually slow-growing and, in men who have it, is often not the cause of death.

The causes of prostate cancer are largely unknown. It is clear that the chances of developing prostate cancer increase in men over 50. Close relatives of men who have had prostate cancer are also more likely to be affected. Ethnic origin appears to play a part: men of African heritage seem to be at highest risk, and men of Far Eastern descent the lowest.

It may be possible to reduce the risk by avoiding a high fat diet through, for example, cutting down on dairy foods and red meat.

Genetic Causes of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer seems to run in some families, suggesting an inherited or genetic factor. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer doubles a man's risk of developing this disease. The risk is even higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young at the time of diagnosis. Scientists have identified several inherited genes that seem to increase prostate cancer risk, but they probably account for only a small fraction of cases. Genetic testing for these genes is not yet available.