Cancer can strike many parts of the body, but in men, it is especially prone to attack the prostate, a small gland located between the rectum and the bladder. Excluding skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in Canadian and American males. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, approximately 25,500 Canadians were diagnosed with prostate cancer in the past year alone, resulting in over four thousand deaths. One in seven men will be diagnosed with the disease at some point during their lifetime. And, due to the average increased life span of North Americans, prevalence rates of prostate cancer are rising.
The disease occurs when cells within the prostate gland mutate, and form a cluster of cancer cells. Eventually, this cluster multiplies and spreads into healthy tissue, which in turn leads to the creation of a tumor. When a tumor expands past a certain point, it usually begins to encroach on other organs or glands. Tumor cells have also been known to travel through the body by way of the lymphatic system, or bloodstream, and frequently invade the rectum and bladder. Although far more research is needed to explain the exact causes of this disease, it is known that a person’s diet, age and family history can affect their chances of contracting it.
During its earliest stages, prostate cancer is often undetectable. In a few cases, sufferers will experience difficulties with normal urinary functioning, and even pain while urinating. Because the diseased gland is involved in the production of semen, sexual performance can also be impacted, resulting in erectile dysfunction, as well as pain during ejaculation.
Once the cancer has spread into other organs, symptoms will usually become more numerous and more varied. Many experience pain in their spines and ribs, and report a weakness in their legs. Incontinence is also not uncommon.
The traditional method of confirming the presence of prostate cancer is a biopsy, by which a tiny portion of a patient’s prostate is removed and examined for cancerous growths. Once the disease is detected, it is crucial to find out how far it has spread. To find this out, doctors examine a tumor’s size, giving it a grade from 2 up to 10, based on a rating system called the Gleason score. Pathologists also look to see how many lymph nodes have been affected, and to what degree.
Once cancer is confirmed, the decision needs to be made whether some kind of treatment is needed right away. In the case of many geriatric patients, the cancer can be so slow to develop that death will occur before any related symptoms become evident. If medical intervention is advisable, the form it will take will depend on a patient’s age and health. It is important that a sufferer of prostate cancer talk over all available treatment options thoroughly with their G.P, in order to make an informed decision.
The least severe form of intervention is called “active surveillance,” and basically amounts to close monitoring of the tumor, through a combination of physical examinations and biopsies. As soon as the cancer becomes aggressive and begins to spread quickly, aggressive action will usually be taken to remove the diseased tissue. This will take the form of surgery, radiation therapy, or High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU), among other options. If the cancer has been discovered too late, or if efforts to contain it within the prostate gland have failed, more intensive treatment options such as chemotherapy or hormonal therapy will be considered. Those treatments cannot cure the cancer, they can only prolong the life of the patient.