Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer today, affecting about one-sixth of all adult men. Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate gland, located just beneath the bladder, begin to multiply and grow at an abnormal and erratic pace, often causing the prostate to become enlarged.
Types and Causes of Prostate Cancer
In many men, prostate cancer develops very slowly and is very slow to spread to other areas of the body, or metastasize. In its early stages, prostate cancer is very difficult to detect. Because it develops most often in men over the age of 50 and is so slow to develop, many men affected with prostate cancer remain undiagnosed, eventually dying of other causes. In others, the disease spreads more rapidly and aggressive treatment is required.
Several risk factors have been associated with the development of prostate cancer, including:
- Age: As noted, prostate cancer is uncommon in men under the age of 45, with the average age of diagnosis at around age 70.
- Genetics: Men whose father or brother have had prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop prostate cancer themselves.
- Diet: High alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the likelihood of this cancer, while certain supplements, such as selenium, may help decrease prostate cancer risk. High-fat diets also may pose additional risk.
- Race: Prostate cancer affects more black men than white or Hispanic men.
- Medical: Some medications, including aspirin and other anti-inflammatory medications, as well as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, have been shown to decrease the risk of prostate cancer. Sexually transmitted diseases and increased levels of testosterone may cause an increased risk for the disease. Obesity also has been linked with an increased risk for prostate cancer.
Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
As noted, many men will experience few, if any, symptoms during the early stages of prostate cancer. As the cancer progresses, development of the tumor may cause noticeable symptoms such as frequent urination, difficulty starting or maintaining a stream of urine, pain in urination, or blood in the urine, as well as difficulty maintaining or achieving an erection. In more advanced cases, prostate cancer can cause bone pain and weakness, as well as difficulty or pain during bowel movements. However, these symptoms can also occur as the result of benign conditions, such as enlargement of the prostate gland.
Often prostate cancer is diagnosed as a result of rectal examination of the prostate made during a regular physical exam. When a rectal exam reveals a lump or other abnormality in the prostate, blood work may be ordered to test for a specific antigen, known as the prostate-specific antigen. Elevated levels of this antigen can indicate the presence of a tumor in the prostate. Biopsy can be used to confirm diagnosis. When diagnosed in its earliest stages, there is currently no way to determine if the type of prostate cancer will be aggressive, making the determination of treatment difficult.
Prostate Cancer Treatments
Most prostate cancers are detected while still localized to the prostate and the localized area of tissue. As a result, treatment outcomes are generally very good. Treatment may include actively monitoring the development of the tumor, use of radiation or chemotherapeutic drugs, radiation, or hormone therapy, or a combination of these or other modalities. Among favored alternative prostate cancer treatments, Insulin Potentiation Therapy, or IPT, is a low-dose chemotherapy treatment program that is also effective in helping to treat prostate cancer with fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy.
Dietary changes may also be recommended, both for prevention and treatment, especially when the tumor is being monitored to determine whether or not it is aggressive. Studies have indicated that vitamins B6 and E, zinc, beta carotene, selenium, lycopene, and soy foods, including the soy-derived phytoestrogens, may play a role in preventing or even slowing the progression of prostate cancer.