Prostate cancer affects 1 in 5 men in the United States. Men tend to get nervous at the time of their yearly exam, because men over the age of 40 should have a prostate screening exam. Prevention is key in this type of cancer and early detection and treatment can increase the lifespan of men at risk for this disease. This article will help you understand more about prostate cancer, the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis by stage.
The symptoms of prostate cancer may not appear until the disease is advanced. When the tumor grows, the symptoms may include:
Reduced urine flow
Trouble starting urine stream
Blood tinged semen
Pelvic discomfort and pain
Pain in the bones
Trouble getting an erection
Symptoms can also mimic those of benign prostatic hyperplasia, so it is important to see your doctor if you have the above symptoms. There are a few simple tests that can help the doctor decide whether your condition is BPH or cancerous.
Screening Methods of Prostate Cancer
A special mention should be made about screening for prostate cancer. Various screening methods include a digital exam (inserting a physician's finger into the rectum to feel the prostate), and a blood test to measure the level of PSA (a high level can mean cancer, among other possibilities). Various governing bodies have concluded that benefits of screening do not always outweigh the risks because a high level of PSA does not always mean cancer but would subject am otherwise normal individual to invasive, painful, or costly tests.
It’s important to discuss with your doctor if you are a candidate for screening.
To understand prostate cancer, it is first important to understand the prostate gland. The prostate gland is located in the male reproductive tract near the bladder and rectum. Its primary job is to create a fluid that gives sperm nourishment and keeps the semen in a liquid form. The prostate sits in the middle of the urethra and can become enlarged and grow abnormal cells. This can begin with a condition known as, Prostatic Intraepithelial Neoplasia (PIN). This usually starts in the 20’s to 30’s and 50 percent of men have these abnormal cells. Another type of condition that causes abnormal cells is called, Proliferative Inflammatory Atrophy (PIA). This is a sign of inflammation to the prostate gland and may possibly turn into cancer cells. Doctors will usually do a biopsy and keep a close eye on the cells to watch for changes.
A side note that there is another prostate condition known as, Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) which causes the prostate to become enlarged and cut off the urethra preventing urine form flowing properly. Studies show this is not a cancerous condition and does not cause prostate cancer, but is serious and needs treatment.
Researchers are still unsure as to what exactly causes prostate cancer. Prostate cancer comes from abnormal cells in the prostate gland that have damaged DNA. This causes overgrowth of cells that do not shed like normal cells do. This causes a mass on the prostate gland that can grow and spread to the rest of the body.
See your doctor yearly for prostate screening exams. Prostate screening exams should be done after the age of 40 for any man that has risk factors and yearly after the age of 50. It may be uncomfortable, but may save your life. If you develop symptoms, see your doctor right away.
Yearly prostate screening tests include:
Digital Rectal Exam -DRE. The doctor will place a finger into the rectum so the prostate gland can be checked for enlargement. They also feel the shape and texture of the gland. Based on this test, it may be decided to run further testing.
Prostate Specific Antigen – PSA. This is a blood test that checks for high levels of this antigen. It can be elevated in a number of different prostate diseases including; BPH, infection, or cancer.
If the doctor suspects cancer, the following tests may be ordered:
Ultrasound Examination. A very small Doppler is placed into the rectum to look at the prostate gland. They can more clearly see the shape and size of the gland.
Biopsy. If your gland looks abnormal, the doctor can take a small sample of cells from the gland with a needle. This will be looked at by a laboratory for abnormal cells.
If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, the doctor will run more tests to stage the cancer and see how far it has spread. This will help determine the level of treatment you will need. This will include the following tests:
Based on the results of these tests, cancer will be assigned on of the following stages:
Stage I. The cancer is still in the prostate and has not spread to any other areas of the body. The cancer isn’t considered aggressive at this stage.
Stage II. The cancer is still confined to the prostate, but the cells are becoming aggressive and growing throughout the gland.
Stage III. The cancer has spread to tissues around the prostate and seminal vesicles.
Stage IV. The cancer has spread to other organs, lymph nodes, and possibly the bones.
If your prostate cancer is in the early stages, your doctor may opt to “watch and wait.” This means your doctor will follow you closely and monitor blood tests and additional biopsies. During the first stage of prostate cancer, it tends to be slower growing.
If cancer is found at Stage II or beyond the treatments are as follows:
Radiation Treatments. They will use high powered radiation either directed at the outside of your body, or on the inside. Here is how the two methods work:
External Radiation. A beam of radiation will be directed at the prostate area. This usually lasts 5 days a week for around six to eight weeks.
Internal Radiation. They will place rice size grains of radiation into your body and they will release the radiation over time. The seeds can be placed directly in the area of the prostate and are not removed once they are done.
Radiation has side-effects that include; pain with urination, diarrhea, pain with bowel movements, trouble having an erection, and increased urination.
Hormone Treatments. Testosterone directly affects prostate cancer cells and increases their growth. Hormone treatments block the production of testosterone. There are also medications can block the effects of testosterone on the cancer cells. The doctor can also surgically remove the testicles to stop them from producing testosterone. This type of treatment only slows cancer growth and is most often used with other cancer treatments as a combination therapy.
Side-effects include; trouble getting an erection, weight gain, reduced bone mass, and low libido (sex drive).
Prostate Surgery. The doctor removes the prostate, any tissue that may be affected around the prostate gland, and lymph nodes in the area. This can either be done with open surgery or laparoscopically.
Side-effects may include; erectile dysfunction and trouble urinating.
Cryosurgery. This is a minor surgery where the doctor places thin needles into the prostate gland. Then cold gases are sent through the needles to freeze any cancerous tissue. This is usually done only when radiation treatments do not work.
Chemotherapy. When prostate cancer spreads throughout the body and there is no response to other treatments, doctors may suggest chemotherapy. This sends a medication into the body that can kill off cancer cells anywhere they spread. It can be given either intravenously or orally.
Side-effects include; hair loss, weight loss, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
Biological Therapies. These medications increase your immune system to fight off the cancer. The lab will engineer some of your immune cells to make them able to fight off and kill prostate cancer cells and then places them back into your body.
While alternative medicine has not been shown to cure cancer, some people may use alternative medicine as a complimentary therapy to medical treatments. This may help with side-effects of treatment and reducing cancer symptoms. Always speak with your doctor about using alternative medicine. Some herbal therapies can have side-effects and drug interactions that can interfere with medical treatment. A few alternative medicine therapies for prostate cancer include:
Increase Antioxidants. Antioxidants help to cleanse cancer causing free-radicals from the body. Eat more plant based foods like; fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, and get enough vitamin E, vitamin C, and Co-Q10.
Lower Inflammation Levels. Having high levels of inflammation in the body encourages growth of damaged cells and cancer. Reduce foods in the diet that encourage inflammation like; dairy, red meats, processed foods, and wheat.
Curcumin. This comes from turmeric and may have cancer stalling properties.
Maitaike Mushrooms. – These Asian mushrooms may inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Cleanse the Body. Getting toxins out of the body can increase our healing potential. Try a sauna bath or do exercise that makes you sweat. Make sure your bowels are moving properly, and try the following cleansing herbs with your doctor’s okay; Artichoke leaf, milk thistle, and dandelion. These can help the liver work better to remove toxins.
The very good news for prostate cancer is that research shows lifestyle changes can slow the progression of the cancer. While diet and lifestyle changes are not a cure for cancer, there are definite changes in the results of the PSA and biopsies one year from diagnosis. If you have Stage I prostate cancer, lifestyle changes may be the only treatment needed and in later stages can increase positive outcome when used with cancer treatment. Lifestyle changes include:
Dietary Changes. Dietary changes to help fight off prostate cancer includes; soy proteins in place of meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Exercise. 30 minutes of exercise and least six days of the week. This needs to be a moderate level of aerobic exercise such as; walking briskly, jogging, rowing, or riding a bicycle.
Reducing Stress. Lowering stress levels can help the body fight cancer. Try meditation, relaxation techniques or incorporate yoga as a form of exercise to increase deep breathing.
Find Support. Studies show that 95% of men who do lifestyle changes plus add a weekly cancer support group, show a steeper drop in the PSA after one year. Support groups help relieve stress by giving you others to talk to that understand your diagnosis. Support groups can be found through your local community health department, church, or local hospital.
For those who have not yet been diagnosed with prostate cancer, lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of getting prostate cancer. This is especially important if you have a family history of the disease.
American Cancer Society. (2015 , August 13). Prostate Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. Retrieved from American Cancer Society: www.m.cancer.org/cancer/prostate cancer
Geo Espinosa, M. L. (2015, August 13). Six Naturopathic Methods to Combat Prostate Cancer. Retrieved from Naturopathic.org: www.naturopathic.org/content.asp?contentid=505
Mayo Clinic. (2015, March 3). Causes of Prostate Cancer. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prostate-cancer/basics/causes/con-20029597
National Institute of Health. (2015, July 31). Prostate Cancer . Retrieved from National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov/types/prostate
National Library of Medicine. (2005 , September 17). Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. Retrieved from National Institute of Health: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16094059
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