About Prostate Cancer
What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer occurs when cells within the prostate grow uncontrollably, creating small tumors. The term “cancer” refers to a condition in which the regulation of cell growth is lost and cells grow uncontrollably. Most cells in the body are constantly dividing, maturing and then dying in a tightly controlled process. Unlike normal cells, the growth of cancer cells is no longer well-regulated. Instead of dying as they should, cancer cells outlive normal cells and continue to form new, abnormal cells.
Abnormal cell growths are called tumors. The term “primary tumor” refers to the original tumor; secondary tumors are caused when the original cancer spreads to other locations in the body. Prostate cancer typically is comprised of multiple very small, primary tumors within the prostate. At this stage, the disease is often curable (rates of 90% or better) with standard interventions such as surgery or radiation that aim to remove or kill all cancerous cells in the prostate. Unfortunately, at this stage the cancer produces few or no symptoms and can be difficult to detect.
What is Metastatic Prostate Cancer?
If untreated and allowed to grow, the cells from these tumors can spread in a process called metastasis. In this process, prostate cancer cells are transported through the lymphatic system and the bloodstream to other parts of the body, where they lodge and grow secondary tumors. Once the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, cure rates drop dramatically.
In most cases, prostate cancer is a relatively slow-growing cancer, which means that it typically takes a number of years for the disease to become large enough to be detectable, and even longer to spread beyond the prostate. This is good news. However, a small percentage of patients experience more rapidly growing, aggressive forms of prostate cancer. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know for sure which prostate cancers will grow slowly and which will grow aggressively – complicating treatment decisions.
The spread of cancer outside the prostate can be detected by the presence of prostate cancer cells in areas surrounding the prostate such as the seminal vesicle, lymph nodes in the groin area, the rectum and bones. When prostate cancer spreads to another site, such as bone, the new tumor is still considered to be prostate cancer, not bone cancer.
How Common is Prostate Cancer?
It is the most common non-skin cancer in America, affecting 1 in 6 men. A non-smoking man is more likely to develop prostate cancer than he is to develop colon, bladder, melanoma, lymphoma and kidney cancers combined. In fact, a man is 35% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than a woman is to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
In 2009, more than 192,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 27,000 men will die from the disease. One new case occurs every 2.7 minutes and a man dies from prostate cancer every 19 minutes.
It is estimated that there are more than 2 million American men currently living with prostate cancer.
How curable is prostate cancer?
As with all cancers, "cure" rates for prostate cancer describe the percentage of patients likely remaining disease-free for a specific time. In general, the earlier the cancer is caught, the more likely it is for the patient to remain disease-free.
Because approximately 90% of all prostate cancers are detected in the local and regional stages, the cure rate for prostate cancer is very high—nearly 100% of men diagnosed at this stage will be disease-free after five years. By contrast, in the 1970s, only 67% of men diagnosed with local or regional prostate cancer were disease-free after five years.
Yet being diagnosed with prostate cancer can be a life-altering experience. It requires making some very difficult decisions about treatments that can affect not only the life of the man diagnosed, but also the lives of his family members in significant ways for many years to come.