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Prostate cancer

About prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found only in men and the third most common non-skin cancer diagnosed in Americans. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 175,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2019.

Despite increased screening and a steady decline in the number of prostate cancer deaths over the years, prostate cancer still is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among American men. About 30,000 men die from the disease each year. The death rate is twice as high for African American men than any other group.

What causes prostate cancer?

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It surrounds the urethra and produces a substance that contributes to semen, the fluid that carries sperm from the testicles. Most cases of prostate cancer—99 percent—are adenocarcinomas, which develop when gland cells mutate and grow out of control, forming a tumor.

Learn more about prostate cancer symptoms

Who gets prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is rarely diagnosed in men younger than 40. Still, by age 50, it is common for men to experience changes in the size and shape of the cells in the prostate. Understanding whether these changes are signs of a prostate tumor and knowing your risk for developing prostate cancer are important steps in protecting your health. According to the National Cancer Institute:

  • The average age of a man diagnosed with prostate cancer is 66.
  • The average age of a man who dies from prostate cancer is 80.
  • The risk of developing prostate cancer is 74 percent higher in African American men than in non-Hispanic Caucasian men.

Men whose father or brother has or had prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease. Also, men who have inherited mutations in their BRCA or BRCA2 genes are at a higher risk for developing a prostate tumor.

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Types of prostate cancer

Almost all prostate cancers—more than 99 percent—are adenocarcinomas.

This type of tumor is found in many common cancers, including breast, lung and colorectal, and forms in secretion glands. Prostate adenocarcinomas are found in the glands that secrete prostate fluid, which is found in semen. Symptoms of adenocarcinomas of the prostate include incontinence and painful ejaculation or urination.

Other prostate cancer types include:

  • Transitional cell carcinomas
  • Sarcomas
  • Small cell carcinomas
  • Neuroendocrine tumors

Prostate cancer symptoms

In early stages, prostate cancer may not produce symptoms. However, the disease may be discovered early with regular digital rectal exams or prostate specific antigen tests. Warning signs of prostate cancer include:

  • Difficulty urinating, frequent urinations, incontinence, burning during urination or blood in the urine
  • Erectile disfunction, blood in the semen or painful ejaculation

Learn more about the risk factors for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer screening and diagnosis

Prostate cancer is typically treatable if caught early. Routine screening has improved the diagnosis of prostate cancer in recent years. More than 90 percent of prostate cancers are found when the disease is in an early stage, confined to the prostate and nearby organs. Men, especially middle-aged men, African American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer should talk to their doctor about an appropriate screening regimen.

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Treating prostate cancer

In most men, prostate cancer is diagnosed before the disease has spread outside the prostate. In those cases, because prostate cancer often grows slowly, active surveillance may be an option. With active surveillance, the cancer is monitored until treatment is considered necessary. Treatment options for prostate cancer include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

Learn more about treatment options for prostate cancer

Next topic: What are the risk factors for prostate cancer?