In the United States alone, one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer — cancer occurring in the prostate gland. That’s a significant number, with new diagnoses topping 248,000 annually.¹ But there’s good news: prostate cancer is usually easily treated — especially when it’s caught at an early stage. That’s why knowing the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer is so important.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped gland located below the bladder, around the urethra and in front of the rectum in men. The prostate tends to enlarge over time, as a natural effect of aging. This can put pressure on the urethra and cause symptoms that overlap with prostate cancer.² That’s why it’s important to visit your healthcare professional when anything feels amiss.
What are the early signs of prostate cancer?
According to the Prostate Conditions Education Council,³ there are some hallmark symptoms of prostate cancer that men of all ages should know, including the following:
- Frequent urination (especially at night)
- Weak urinary stream
- Inability to urinate
- Interruption of the urinary stream
- Pain or burning during urination
- Blood in the urine or ejaculate
All prostate issues should be investigated, to get to the source of the problem and determine treatment. Some non-cancerous conditions with similar symptoms include benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostatitis.⁴
What are the advanced symptoms of prostate cancer?
If prostate cancer progresses and spreads to nearby organs, additional complications and symptoms may include:⁵
- Bone pain in the hips, ribs or back
- Unexplained weight loss
- Erectile dysfunction
What causes prostate cancer?
No one knows what causes prostate cancer, but there are risk factors that can make you more or less likely to develop it.
Prostate cancer risk factors include:⁶⁷
- Age: Being older than 65 is a significant risk factor. It’s rare to find prostate cancer in men younger than 40, and the average age of diagnosis is 66.
- Ethnicity: Prostate cancer is more common in Black men than men of other races. It also occurs in non-Hispanic white men more often than Asian and Hispanic/Latino men.
- Geography: Prostate cancer is diagnosed more often in North America, northwestern Europe, Australia and on the Caribbean Islands.
- Family history: This illness can run in families — having a brother or father with prostate cancer more than doubles the risk — but it also occurs randomly without known genetic links.
- Lifestyle and habits: These risks include diet, obesity, smoking, chemical exposure, etc.
How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
- Digital rectal exam (DRE): Because the prostate is next to the rectum, a healthcare professional can insert a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the size, shape and texture of the gland. If anything seems abnormal, more tests may be ordered.
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test: The prostate naturally produces this antigen, so it’s normal to have traces of it in bloodwork. But when levels are too high, it may be an indication of a prostate issue, like cancer.
If prostate cancer is suspected, your physician will likely request further tests. These might include:⁹
- Imaging: An ultrasound or MRI may be used to get a visual on your prostate; MRI is an emerging standard of care for detecting aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
- A prostate biopsy: In a biopsy, a healthcare professional collects a small sample of prostate tissue for further analysis. If prostate cancer is confirmed, the biopsy can also help to determine how aggressive it is.
How often should you be screened for prostate cancer or other prostate problems?
Some physicians recommend regular screening for prostate issues, even without symptoms, but this is a controversial subject because a high PSA result doesn’t always indicate cancer, or might indicate a low-risk cancer that doesn’t require treatment.
Talk to your healthcare professional to determine if routine screening is right for you, based on your specific risk factors.¹⁰
How is prostate cancer treated?
Once prostate cancer has been confirmed and staged, your medical team will land on a treatment plan. Depending on the progression of disease, the following types of treatments may be required, among others:¹¹
- Surveillance of the disease, which includes regular monitoring of bloodwork and physical symptoms
- Surgery to remove the prostate gland
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Targeted drug therapy
What is the prognosis for prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is usually curable, with a five-year survival rate of 97.5%.¹²
That said, not all prostate cancers behave the same way. Some are slow-moving and remain confined to the prostate, requiring minimal treatment. Others move more quickly, prompting healthcare professionals to take a more aggressive approach.
With any prostate cancer, early detection is key.¹³
Can you prevent prostate cancer?
The short answer is…sort of. You can’t change your age or genetic profile, but there are some lifestyle habits that may help.
Here are some things you can do to reduce your chances of getting prostate cancer:
Maintain a healthy BMI
At least one study has linked obesity to a greater chance of developing lethal prostate cancer,¹⁴ while multiple studies link being overweight with an increased risk of developing cancer in general.¹⁵
Decades of research show that regular exercise is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer as well as better outcomes for prostate cancer treatment.¹⁶
The CDC recommends adults 18 and older spend at least 150 minutes a week on moderately intense activities (think brisk walking or casual dancing) and at least two days a week on muscle strengthening. Adults over 65 should also do regular balance training exercises.¹⁷
Eat a healthy diet
There’s a reason you keep hearing the same advice about eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains and plant-based foods and low in red and processed meats, such as the Mediterranean diet — it can stave off a slew of diseases, including cancer in general¹⁸ and prostate cancer specifically.¹⁹
Green tea and soy products, like edamame and tofu, may be particularly helpful in preventing prostate cancer growth.²⁰
Prostate cancer is common, but usually treatable. Symptoms such as erectile dysfunction or problems urinating can overlap with other benign conditions, but should always be assessed by a healthcare professional. Although some risk factors like age, race and heredity can’t be helped, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can reduce the risk of developing prostate and other cancers. If you think you might have prostate cancer, you should get tested.