Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and is exclusive to men. Let’s see what is the nature of this disease.
Despite being a disease unique to men, prostate cancer is among the most common cancers in the world . In fact, about 1.2 million new cases are diagnosed each year, making it the fourth most common cancer.
The prostate is a small walnut-shaped gland present only in males located just in front of the rectum and below the urinary bladder. This organ is in charge of producing seminal fluid, which is the substance that nourishes and transports sperm.
Prostate cancer is, therefore, exclusive to men and usually develops at an advanced age, with cases being rare in those under 40 years of age. Despite this, it is a very common cancer and, fortunately, we have treatments that, if detected early, are very effective.
Most people with prostate cancer that is localized only to this gland have a very high chance of making a good recovery after treatment and even not needing treatment.
Therefore, in today’s article we will talk about the nature of this cancer , detailing both its causes and its symptoms, as well as the best ways to prevent its appearance, the complications it can lead to, and the available treatments.
What is prostate cancer?
Cancer consists of an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of the cells of our own organism, which, due to mutations in their genetic material, lose the ability to regulate their division cycles.
This causes them to divide more than they should and, therefore, grow more than normal. Over time, a tumor develops in that area, which is a mass of cells that has grown excessively. In case it does not cause damage, we speak of a benign tumor. If, otherwise, it endangers the health of the person, we are facing a malignant tumor or cancer.
Therefore, prostate cancer is a malignant tumor that develops in the cells of the prostate , a gland present in men that has the function of producing seminal fluid.
As it is not a vital organ, it is not as dangerous a cancer as lung cancer, for example. However, as with any other type of cancer, there is a risk that it will spread to other parts of the body, a situation that does represent a serious health problem.
Being a cancer so frequent in men and that it is potentially fatal for the person, it is essential that older men undergo periodic medical check-ups , since if it is detected early, the probability that the treatment will be successful is very high.
One of the main problems in preventing prostate cancer is that the causes are not too clear . Just as in lung cancer, it is evident that the main cause is smoking or that many cases of liver cancer are due to having suffered hepatitis, in the case of the prostate it is not known exactly why some people develop it and others no.
In any case, it is believed that the reason for its appearance would be a complex interaction between the genetics of the person and the environment, that is, the lifestyle that is followed.
Despite not knowing the causes that lead to its development, what is known is that there is a population at risk: those over 45 years of age, African Americans (it is not well understood why but statistically they are more susceptible to suffering from this type cancer), people with obesity, people with a family history …
Therefore, as the “triggers” are not known, the general population and especially those within the population at risk should undergo periodic check-ups at the doctor.
Another problem with prostate cancer is that it does not show signs of its presence until it is in very advanced stages, at which point the probability that it has spread to other organs is higher.
Hence the importance of making check-ups with the doctor to detect their presence before symptoms appear, since when they appear, it may already be too late to guarantee the effectiveness of the treatment.
Be that as it may, men – especially those who are within the risk population – should be attentive to the following symptoms and seek medical attention at the slightest hint of doubt:
- Difficulty urinating
- Dribbling after urination
- Pain when urinating
- Pain in the lower back
- Pain when ejaculating
- Problems starting urination
- Little force in the flow of urine
- Blood in semen
- Discomfort in the pelvic area
- Bone pain
It is a very representative symptomatology and, although it can scare the affected person, it does not mean that nothing can be done. In fact, the real problems come in case these signs lead to the complications that we will see below .
If prostate cancer is not detected early, we may give it time both to grow too large and to spread to other organs, a situation that does put a person’s life at risk.
Basically three complications can arise . Two of them, incontinence and erectile dysfunction, although they do not endanger the life of the affected person, they do compromise their quality of life. However, one of them is that it metastasizes, and this is indeed a life threatening situation.
1. Urinary incontinence
The prostate plays a very important role in the urination process, as it is responsible for closing the passage to the bladder so that it does not release urine when it is not touched. When the person suffers from prostate cancer and it is allowed time to grow, it is possible that this gland loses its function and cannot “stop” the advance of urine.
This can lead to urinary incontinence , a disorder in which the person loses control over urination to a greater or lesser extent. Depending on the involvement of the prostate, this problem can range from losing a few drops to having such a great urge to urinate that the person does not even have time to go to the bathroom.
Although it does not endanger the life of the person, it is a condition that causes shame and, therefore, compromises the quality of life of the person. Furthermore, despite being typical of advanced stages of cancer, prostate cancer treatments themselves can cause this incontinence.
2. Erectile dysfunction
Another complication that both prostate cancer itself and treatments aimed at curing it can lead to is erectile dysfunction. Again, it does not endanger the life of the person but it does compromise their quality.
Fortunately, after treatment, affected men usually overcome this disorder and regain the ability to have sex.
This is the truly serious complication . In the event that the prostate cancer is located exclusively in this gland, although it can lead to the two previous problems, it is still relatively easy to treat.
Now, things change when cancer spreads to other nearby and even distant organs and tissues. It can metastasize to the bladder or, in severe cases, travel through the blood or lymphatic system and reach the bones or other vital organs.
Once this has happened, it is very difficult to control cancer. And while the patient is still likely to respond to treatment, the chances of being cured are much lower.
Prevention of prostate cancer is very difficult as the exact causes are not known. However, as with other types of cancer, the best strategy to reduce the risk of developing it is to lead as healthy a life as possible .
Eating healthy and eating a varied diet, exercising regularly, maintaining an adequate weight, avoiding excesses with alcohol, not smoking, etc., are the best ways to protect yourself against the development of this and other cancers .
Most cases of prostate cancer are found in routine tests . After a certain age, men are tested to see if they can suffer from this disease. The doctor performs a digital rectal examination to see if he detects any abnormalities in the texture or size of the prostate. In case you see something unusual, you will do more tests.
These consist of blood tests, because when there is prostate cancer, specific antigens circulate in the bloodstream at higher than normal levels.
Later, in case you have doubts or need to confirm it, you will carry out more diagnostic techniques: ultrasound, biopsy (extraction of a tissue sample from the prostate), MRI, ultrasound techniques, computed tomography …
In this way, the doctor can either confirm the presence of the tumor or rule out the possibility that the person suffers from the disease. The earlier the diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment will obviously begin and the more likely it is to be successful.
In case the doctor sees that there is no risk that the prostate cancer will lead to the complications seen above, the treatment may not be necessary since if there is no danger of it metastasizing, it will be more harmful to the person. than cancer itself. Of course, the patient will always be under surveillance.
The cancer is most likely found early before it has spread and is only localized to the prostate. In this case, the removal surgery will suffice. The problem is that by removing the prostate, the patient runs the risk of incontinence and dysfunction. That is why the treatment is only carried out when there is a real risk to the health of the person.
In case the cancer has metastasized, surgery will not be enough. The patient will have to undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy , drug administration, or a combination of several.
However, the most likely occurrence is either that no treatment is required or that surgery is sufficient. This as long as it is detected in time, so we once again emphasize the importance of undergoing routine examinations at the doctor once the risk age has been entered.