What Is Prostate Cancer?

Cancer of the prostate is a serious health problem. After skin cancer, it is the second most common cancer in American men and is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer deaths. Annually, eight times as many men are diagnosed with prostate cancer as die of it.

Prostate cancer typically causes no symptoms in its early stages. In those with advanced disease, however, urinary symptoms may occur. (These symptoms are indistinguishable from those of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) except that they may appear more abruptly when due to cancer.)

A man with prostate cancer may experience erectile dysfunction (ED) or a decrease in the firmness of erections if the cancer has invaded the nerves beside the prostate that control erections. In some men the first symptoms of prostate cancer originate in areas of the body where the cancer has spread (severe back pain from cancer that has spread to the spine, for example).

Today, the diagnosis of prostate cancer at these advanced stages is unusual because of widespread screening for the disease with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test.

Although the number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer increased with the widespread use of the PSA test for screening, prostate cancer death rates began to decline after 1993 and have continued to fall. Nearly 100 percent of men are still alive five years after a prostate cancer diagnosis, 99 percent are alive 10 years after diagnosis, and about 94 percent are alive 15 years after diagnosis.

Many experts believe that earlier detection of prostate cancer is responsible for at least half to three quarters of the decline in death rates. Nevertheless, prostate cancer screening has been a matter of great debate.

Learn more about how prostate cancer tumors are staged and how to find a prostate cancer oncologist.