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Prostate Cancer - Topic Overview

For information on cancer that has come back or spread to other parts of the body, see the topic Prostate Cancer, Advanced or Metastatic.

Prostate cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in a man's prostate gland camera.gif. The prostate sits just below the bladder. It makes part of the fluid for semen. In young men, the prostate is about the size of a walnut. As men age, the prostate usually grows larger.

Prostate cancer is common in men older than 65. It usually grows slowly and can take years to grow large enough to cause any problems. As with other cancers, treatment for prostate cancer works best when the cancer is found early. Often, prostate cancer that has spread responds to treatment. Older men who have prostate cancer usually die from other causes.

Experts don't know what causes prostate cancer, but they believe that your age, family history (genetics), and race affect your chances of getting it. What you eat, such as foods high in fats, may also play a part.

Prostate cancer usually doesn't cause symptoms in its early stages. Most men don't know they have it until it is found during a regular medical exam.

When problems are noticed, they are most often problems with urinating. But these same symptoms can also be caused by an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia). An enlarged prostate is common in older men.

See your doctor for a checkup if:

  • You have urinary problems, such as:
    • Not being able to urinate at all.
    • Having a hard time starting or stopping the flow of urine.
    • Having to urinate often, especially at night.
    • Having pain or burning during urination.
  • You have difficulty having an erection.
  • You have blood in your urine or semen.
  • You have deep and frequent pain in your lower back, belly, hip, or pelvis.

The most common way to check for prostate cancer is to have a digital rectal exam, in which the doctor puts a gloved, lubricated finger in your rectum to feel your prostate, and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. A higher level of PSA may mean that you have prostate cancer. But it could also mean that you have an enlargement or infection of the prostate.

If your PSA is high, or if your doctor finds anything during the rectal exam, he or she may do a prostate biopsy camera.gif to figure out the cause. A biopsy means that your doctor takes tissue samples from your prostate gland and sends them to a lab for testing.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 12, 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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