Prostate Cancer: The Basics

The prostate is a muscular, walnut-sized gland that makes chemicals that affect or control what other cells or organs do. It’s part of the male reproductive system. Its main job is to make seminal fluid, the milky substance that transports sperm.

The prostate wraps around part of your urethra, the tube that moves urine and semen out of your body.

During an orgasm, muscles in your prostate contract to push semen through your urethra and out your penis. The urethra also carries urine, a waste product made by the kidneys and stored in the bladder. When the penis is erect during sexual intercourse, the flow of urine is blocked from the urethra, allowing only semen to be ejaculated at orgasm.

Where Is It Located?

It sits directly beneath your bladder and in front of your rectum. Because the first portion of the urethra passes through the prostate, the passage of urine or semen through the urethra can be blocked if the gland is enlarged.

What Is Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer, excluding skin cancers, in American men. It is a malignant tumor of the prostate. In most men, the cancer grows very slowly. Many men with the disease will never know they have it. Early prostate cancer is confined to the prostate gland itself. Most men with this type of cancer can live for years with no problems.

Doctors talk about prostate cancer in terms of a "grade" and a "stage." The grade is given to indicate how the cancer cells look under the microscope when a biopsy is analyzed. The grade often predicts how quickly a cancer is growing and will spread -- the higher the grade, the more likely it is that the cancer will grow and spread rapidly. The size and extent of the tumor when first detected determine its stage.

What Causes Prostate Cancer?

As with many cancers, it isn’t known. But doctors do know you're more likely to get it if you're African-American or have a family history of the disease. The male sex hormone testosterone also contributes to its growth.

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How Many Men Have It?

In 2015, the American Cancer Society estimated about 220,000 U.S. men would be diagnosed with prostate cancer and nearly 28,000 would die from it. About 80% of men who live to be 80 have prostate cancer.

What's the Outlook?

While the number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer remains high, so does the number of men who get it and live. Survival rates after diagnosis of common types of prostate cancer are:

  • 5 years: nearly 100%
  • 10 years: 99%
  • 15+ years: 94%

Prostate cancer is a slow-growing disease. You’re far more likely to die from other causes before you die from prostate cancer. You’re also more likely to catch it earlier if you get annual screening tests.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stuart Bergman, MD on February 05, 2016

Sources

SOURCE: The American Cancer Society.
 

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