Prostate Cancer

  • Basics

    Prostate cancer is a very common problem as men age Figure 01. It has been estimated that 234,460 men would be diagnosed with the disease in 2006. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that produces a thick fluid that forms the major part of semen. It is located below the bladder, in front of the rectum, and surrounds the upper part of the urethra (the tube that delivers urine from the bladder to the tip of the penis). Under the influence of the male hormone testosterone, prostate cells sometimes become cancerous and undergo unregulated growth. These cancer cells may spread beyond the prostate gland and invade (metastasize to) other parts of the body.

    Click to enlarge: The Prostate Gland

    Figure 01. The Prostate Gland

    Although it may be fatal, prostate cancer is usually so slow-growing that most men do not die from it. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in males. It is second only to lung cancer as a cause of death for men in the U.S. Because prostate cancer incidence is highest in males in their seventies and eighties, and because prostate cancer is relatively slow-growing, many men with prostate cancer die from other causes. Therefore, considerable controversy exists about treatment options for prostate cancer that may cause impotence or incontinence.

  • Causes

    Cancer involves a process of abnormal cell growth. When cells become cancerous, their appearance changes and they undergo rapid growth and division. The resulting increase in tissue mass can press on surrounding areas. When the growth occurs on the prostate, it may constrict the urethra and cause urinary symptoms. The cancerous cells can also spread out of the prostate gland and travel to other parts of body. The cancerous cells travel via the bloodstream and lymphatic system in a process known as metastasis. Prostate cancer commonly metastasizes to the bones and lymph nodes. Cancer that has metastasized has a poor chance of cure.

    While no one knows why some men develop the disease, dietary factors seem to play a part. Because so many American men develop prostate cancer, some doctors regard prostate cancer as almost a normal process of aging. However, rates differ between countries, with the highest rates in North America, Western Europe, and Australia, and the lowest rates in the Far East and the Indian subcontinent. Racial groups within the U.S. also differ significantly, with African-Americans having the highest rates, followed by European-Americans. After one to two generations, the incidence of prostate cancer in Asian-Americans rises to a rate similar to that of Caucasians in the U.S. Population studies have shown rates of prostate cancer to be increased in those with a high-fat diet and with high dairy and calcium consumption, and to be reduced in those with a high intake of tomato products, vitamin E, and selenium. Cigarette smoking is associated with more aggressive disease.

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