Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Signs of Cancer You May Not Be Aware Of

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While most men today are diagnosed with prostate cancer before they even begin to show symptoms, it is important to know the signs in the event you haven't undergone voluntary screening.

Common Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Symptoms of prostate cancer are largely related to its position the gland itself. The prostate gland is located just below the bladder in the lower pelvis. As urine exits the bladder, it travels through a thin tube called the urethra which passes directly through the prostate.

Cancer is characterized by two things: inflammation and the abnormal growth of cells. With prostate cancer, the resulting inflammation and enlargement of the gland can cause the urethra to become pinched, impeding the flow of urine.

This results in four primary urinary symptoms:

  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Increased urgency (sensation of having to urinate immediately)
  • Having to urinate multiple times during the night (nocturia)
  • Difficulty starting to urinate (hesitancy)

While these symptoms may be suggestive of cancer, other non-cancerous conditions can also cause urination problems. Among them is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This is a condition characterized the enlargement of the prostate gland which typically occurs in older men.

The cause of BPH is largely unknown, although it is believed to be associated with changes in sex hormones as a man ages. If left untreated, BPH can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs), bladder stones, bladder damage, and kidney damage.

Less Common Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Urinary problems are often enough of an incentive for a man to seek treatment. But they are not only symptoms a man can experience if he has prostate cancer. Other less common causes include:

  • Chronic bone pain, especially in the lower back, hips, or ribs
  • Loss of bladder control

While these symptoms are less specific to the prostate gland, the development of any of these should cause concern. While cancer may only one of many causes, it is one that should be explored.

When to See a Doctor

When it comes to diagnosing prostate cancer, the first rule is not to wait until symptoms appear. Today, it is recommended that all men over 50 undergo regular screening as part of a routine medical exam. If you have a brother or father who has had prostate cancer, screening can start as early as 40.

The screening would consist of a blood test called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and a digital rectal examination (DRE) in which is a gloved finger is inserted into the rectum to evaluate the size and consistency of the gland.

If you are under 50 or haven't undergone prostate cancer screening, it is important to see a doctor if any of the above-listed symptoms develop. None should be considered "normal." Even erectile dysfunction, (a condition which affects roughly a third of men over 50) should be discussed with your doctor and warrant a cancer screening if you are older.

Don't let squeamishness or embarrassment keep you from getting screened.

As with all cancers, early treatment is associated with not only better outcomes but a reduction in treatment-related side effects.

Sources:

National Cancer Institute: National Institutes of Health. "Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test." Bethesda, Maryland; updated October 4, 2017.

Pinsky, P.; Prorok, P.; and Kramer, B. "Prostate Cancer Screening — A Perspective on the Current State of the Evidence." N Eng J Med. 2017; 376:1285-89. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsb1616281.

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