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Understanding Prostate Cancer -- the Basics

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What Is Prostate Cancer?

The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system. It makes most of the semen that carries sperm. The walnut-sized gland is located beneath the bladder and surrounds the upper part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder.

Prostate cancer is a major health concern for American men. The disease is rare before age 50, and experts believe that most elderly men have traces of it.

The American Cancer Society predicts that 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer would be diagnosed in 2015. An estimated 27,640 men will die of it. African-American men are more likely to get prostate cancer and have the highest death rate. Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. In other parts of the world -- notably Asia, Africa, and Latin America -- prostate cancer is rare.

Prostate cancer is usually a very slow growing cancer, often causing no symptoms until it is in an advanced stage. Most men with prostate cancer die of other causes, and many never know that they have the disease. But once prostate cancer begins to grow quickly or spreads outside the prostate, it is dangerous.

Prostate cancer in its early stages (when it’s only found in the prostate gland) can be treated with very good chances for survival. Fortunately, about 85% of American men with prostate cancer are diagnosed in an early stage of the disease.

Cancer that has spread beyond the prostate (such as to the bones, lymph nodes, and lungs) is not curable, but it may be controlled for many years. Because of the many advances in available treatments, most men whose prostate cancer becomes widespread can expect to live five years or more. Some men with advanced prostate cancer live a normal life and die of another cause, such as heart disease.

What Causes Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer affects mainly older men. About 80% of cases are in men over 65, and less than 1% of cases are in men under 50. Men with a family history of prostate cancer are more likely to get it.

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