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General Information About Prostate Cancer

Some citations in the text of this section are followed by a level of evidence. The PDQ editorial boards use a formal ranking system to help the reader judge the strength of evidence linked to the reported results of a therapeutic strategy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Levels of Evidence for more information.)

Incidence and Mortality

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Estimated new cases and deaths from prostate cancer in the United States in 2011:[1]

  • New cases: 240,890.
  • Deaths: 33,720.

Carcinoma of the prostate is predominantly a tumor of older men, which frequently responds to treatment when widespread and may be cured when localized. The rate of tumor growth varies from very slow to moderately rapid, and some patients may have prolonged survival even after the cancer has metastasized to distant sites such as bone. Because the median age at diagnosis is 72 years, many patients-especially those with localized tumors-may die of other illnesses without ever having suffered significant disability from the cancer. The approach to treatment is influenced by age and coexisting medical problems. Side effects of various forms of treatment should be considered in selecting appropriate management. Controversy exists in regard to the value of screening, the most appropriate staging evaluation, and the optimal treatment of each stage of the disease.[2]

A complicating feature of any analysis of survival after treatment of prostate cancer and comparison of the various treatment strategies is the evidence of increasing diagnosis of nonlethal tumors as diagnostic methods have changed over time. Nonrandomized comparisons of treatments may therefore be confounded not only by patient-selection factors but also by time trends. For example, a population-based study in Sweden showed that from 1960 to the late 1980s, before the use of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) for screening purposes, long-term relative survival rates after the diagnosis of prostate cancer improved substantially as more sensitive methods of diagnosis were introduced. This occurred despite the use of watchful waiting or palliative hormonal treatment as the most common treatment strategies for localized prostate cancer during the entire era (<150 radical prostatectomies per year were performed in Sweden during the late 1980s). The investigators estimated that if all cancers diagnosed between 1960 and 1964 were of the lethal variety, then at least 33% of cancers diagnosed between 1980 and 1984 were of the nonlethal variety.[3][Level of evidence: 3iB] With the advent of PSA screening, the ability to diagnose nonlethal prostate cancers may increase further. Another issue complicating comparisons of outcomes among nonconcurrent series of patients is the possibility of changes in criteria for histologic diagnosis of prostate cancer.[4] This phenomenon creates a statistical artifact that can produce a false sense of therapeutic accomplishment and may also lead to more aggressive therapy. For example, prostate biopsies from a population-based cohort of 1,858 men diagnosed with prostate cancer from 1990 through 1992 were re-read in 2002 to 2004.[5,6] The contemporary Gleason score readings were an average of 0.85 points higher (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.79-0.91; P < .001) than the same slides read in 1990 to 1992. As a result, Gleason score-standardized prostate cancer mortality for these men was artifactually improved from 2.08 to 1.50 deaths per 100 person years-a 28% decrease even though overall outcomes were unchanged.


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: May 16, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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