Prostate Cancer: When to Go to the Emergency Room

Medically Reviewed by Nazia Q Bandukwala, DO on May 29, 2023
4 min read

Most prostate cancers are slow-growing and don’t spread beyond your prostate gland, which makes them easier to treat. Some can be aggressive and spread through your body. No matter which type you have, it’s important to know the symptoms that signal a problem your doctor needs to know about -- and which symptoms mean it’s time to head to the emergency room.

These are some of the conditions, and symptoms, that require a doctor’s attention or ER care:

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

For people who don’t have cancer, a UTI is not typically serious. But when you’re in treatment for cancer, it can turn into a problem that needs immediate care. Tell your doctor right away if you have:

Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to help treat your UTI so that it doesn’t turn into something more serious.

Bladder obstruction

Tell your doctor if you have:

  • Pain when you pee
  • Trouble starting to pee
  • Trouble emptying your bladder even if it feels full
  • The urge to pee often, but not much comes out
  • The need to get up often at night to pee
  • A slow stream
  • A stream that stops and starts when you go
  • Belly pain

If you experience these symptoms, you could have a blocked bladder. Bladder obstruction happens when your cancer stops up the opening, or neck, of your bladder. This keeps your urine from leaving your body.

Blood tests, urine samples, ultrasounds, and X-rays can determine if you have an obstruction. You may need a catheter or surgery to help relieve the problem.

Kidney failure

Prostate cancer cells can block the tubes that carry urine from your kidney to your bladder. You may also have a hard time emptying your bladder because of an obstruction or treatment side effects. These problems keep your kidneys from working properly.

Your kidneys filter waste from your blood. If your kidneys can’t do their job, the buildup of waste in your body can cause:

If you have these symptoms, tell your doctor as soon as possible. They can give you a blood test to see how well your kidneys are working. You may need a tube or stent to help your urine drain correctly, or radiation to help shrink the cancer.

Bone pain

Prostate cancer that’s spread in your body -- known as metastasis -- can sometimes end up in your bones. The most common bones affected are the spine, pelvis, and thighbones.

Along with pain in your bones, you might have:

  • Broken bones
  • Leaking urine or bowels
  • Weakness in your legs or arms
  • High levels of calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, and confusion

Your doctor may do imaging or perform a biopsy to see if the cause of your bone pain is cancer. To treat it, they can try bone-building medications, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, surgery, or procedures that involve heat or cold to kill cancer cells

Spinal cord compression

Sometimes in metastatic prostate cancer, your cancer cells spread to the area around your spine. These cells can press on your spinal cord. Your spinal cord is the main highway of nerves that carry messages from your brain to the rest of your body. If cancer cells press on it, they can cause problems with your nervous system.

Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Pain in your back or neck. It might be severe, get worse over time, and make it hard to sleep. You might feel it flare when you cough, sneeze, lift, use the bathroom, or lie down.
  • Pain that moves down your arms or legs
  • Trouble controlling your arms and legs
  • Trouble standing or walking
  • Unsteadiness or weakness in your legs
  • Feelings of pins and needles or numbness in your legs, arms, fingers, toes, bottom, stomach, or chest
  • A narrow band of pain around your chest or stomach
  • Loss of control of your bladder or bowels

You should tell your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms. If you do have spinal cord compression, they can give you medication for pain relief and steroids to help relieve pressure on your spinal cord. They may also recommend bed rest.

Your doctor can treat the problem with radiation or surgery. If neither of these options works, you may need a brace or collar to help support your spine and reduce pain.

Signs your cancer has returned

Because you’ve had prostate cancer, your doctor will closely monitor your prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels in your blood to make sure it hasn’t come back. But you should also watch for these symptoms that could mean it’s recurred:

  • Trouble peeing
  • Slow stream of pee
  • Blood in your pee
  • Blood in your semen
  • Bone pain
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Problems getting an erection

Talk to your doctor if you’re dealing with any of these issues.