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Predicting and Monitoring Advanced Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a complex disease. Doctors cannot always predict how fast or slow it will grow. Nor do they agree on when to treat it, or which treatments to use. Predicting and monitoring the disease with accuracy help doctors and patients make decisions that result in the best survival rates and quality of life.

Predicting Aggressive Prostate Cancer

If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, your doctor will probably evaluate several factors to determine how aggressive it is. These "markers" identify whether the cancer is low risk, intermediate risk, or high risk. Low-risk prostate cancer is slow growing and not likely to spread quickly. High-risk prostate cancer is aggressive, meaning it is likely to spread quickly outside the prostate. Understanding the risk level of your cancer will help your doctor decide on the treatment that's right for you. Your doctor will look at key "markers" for aggressive cancer, as well as the "stage" of your specific cancer.

Commonly used markers for prostate cancer include:

  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. PSA is a substance produced by the prostate gland. It is normal to secrete small amounts of PSA into the bloodstream. Larger amounts of PSA in the bloodstream usually signal that the prostate gland is enlarged, infected, or malignant. PSA levels are determined by a simple blood test. The higher the number, the more likely the patient is to have prostate cancer. PSA levels of less than10 fall into the low risk category, 10-19 the intermediate risk category, and 20 or higher the high risk category.
  • PSA velocity. Several studies indicate that when PSA levels increase sharply in the months before surgery, the cancer is likely to be aggressive. A significant rise is 50% within 6 months
  • Gleason score. The Gleason score "grades" tumors on the basis of how abnormal, or normal they look when the tissue is examined under a microscope. The tumor is given a number from 1-5. The most abnormal area, and the least abnormal area are evaluated. These numbers are then added. The higher the number, the more aggressive the tumor and the more likely its spread. A grade of 6 or less  means that cancer cells look similar to normal prostate cells. Grade 7 falls under the intermediate risk range. Grades 8 to 10 indicate that cells look least like normal prostate gland cells.

The stages of prostate cancer refer to the cancer size and how far it has spread. The stages are:

  • Localized Prostate Cancer is stage T1a to stage T2C. At this stage, the tumor is confined to the prostate.
  • Regional Prostate Cancer, also known as local extension, is stage T3a, T3b or T4. The tumor has grown through the prostate capsule, either into the seminal vesicles (a pair of glands next to the prostate) or into nearby muscles and organs.
  • Metastatic Prostate Cancer is referred to as M1, or if lymph nodes are involved, it is referred to as N1. The tumor has spread to the pelvic lymph nodes or more distant parts of the body.

Attention to the general health of a patient as well as the patient's wishes are also an important part of treatment decisions. 

WebMD Medical Reference

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