Just below the bladder in the male body sits a small gland known as the prostate.
The primary function of the prostate comes into play when looking at the male reproductive system, as it plays an essential role in fertility.
The prostate secretes a fluid that combines with sperm. The resulting substance that is released from the penis during ejaculation is known as semen2.
In some men, the prostate gland may become problematic. While it is relatively common for older men to develop an enlarged prostate, a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia, another significant disease to take note of would be prostate cancer. This is when cancer cells start to develop and grow in the prostate.
While the survival rate of prostate cancer is relatively high, men should still be aware of the symptoms and try to obtain an early diagnosis.
We take a closer look at what prostate cancer is, what the risk factors are, and consider important prostate cancer treatment side effects in this post.
What Is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is a disease where cancerous cells develop in the prostate gland of a male patient.
In most cases, prostate cancer is not considered exceptionally dangerous, and the disease develops slowly. There are, however, cases where a male patient may experience a faster rate at which the cancer grows2.
Metastatic prostate cancer, a term used to refer to cancer of the prostate that spreads to other parts of the body, can become a life-threatening disease. This is why detecting the disease early on and initiating appropriate treatment is highly advised.
Among men, prostate cancer ranks as the second most common type of cancer. This particular form of the disease ranks just below skin cancer when taking a look at the statistics.
In 2019 alone, more than 174,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer within the United States – this data does not account for worldwide statistics3.
The average age at which a male patient is diagnosed with prostate cancer is 66. In most cases, prostate cancer is found among older men. It is considered very rare for a male patient to be diagnosed with prostate cancer before he turns 40 years of age.
In 90% of the cases where a man is diagnosed with this cancer, the cancerous cells will be confined to the prostate gland itself. Localized prostate cancer means the cancer cells have not spread to any other parts of the patient’s body.
The additional 10% of cases, however, are related to a more invasive type of prostate cancer, which usually means the diagnosis is made only after cancer has started to spread to areas outside of the prostate gland.
Even though treatments currently implemented for prostate cancer do yield effective results, with more than 30,000 men in the United States expected to die from this disease in 2019.
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Who is at risk Of Prostate Cancer?
Through scientific research and clinical trials, experts in the fields of cancer and prostate health have discovered a range of risk factors that seems to play a role in the likeliness for a man to develop the disease.
When a physician expects a patient may have developed prostate cancer, they will often take the risk factors that apply to the individual into account.
Men, in general, should also have an idea of the specific risk factors that have been identified. This will help a man determine how high of a risk they have for the development of prostate cancer.
If a man determines that they do seem to be at a higher risk for being among the many prostate cancer patients in the country, then they should ensure they are frequently assessed. This will essentially help to ensure changes to the prostate can be detected through procedures like a PSA test.
When the cancer is detected early, treatment may be more successful at fighting against the cancerous cells and potentially reducing the patient’s risk of dying from prostate cancer.
One of the most important risk factors that are associated with prostate cancer would be age. It has been found that the disease is exceptionally rare among younger men – and the risk of developing prostate cancer only seems to start increasing by the age of 40.
There is a significantly higher chance for a person to develop prostate cancer after 50 years of age – but the average male patient who is diagnosed with cancer is over 65.
The fact that age plays such a significant role in the risk of prostate cancer does pose a challenge when it comes to initiating treatment.
Careful consideration needs to go into the process of deciding on radiation treatment, Chemotherapy, and other procedures to fight against prostate cancer cells. Older men are also at a higher risk of experiencing adverse effects when opting for surgery to treat prostate cancer.
It has been found that genetics does seem to play somewhat of a role in male patients, particularly when it comes to looking at the risk of prostate cancer.
Often referred to as family prostate cancer, there are cases where this particular type of cancer can run in a particular family. In fact, in approximately 20% of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer, a family history of the disease will exist4.
There are specific factors that are often taken into account when looking at the family history of a man. Generally, the man would be at a higher risk of prostate cancer if there are three or more prostate cancer diagnoses found in first-degree relatives. There is also a significantly higher risk if three generations of men on the same side of the patient’s family were affected by prostate cancer.
Another important risk factor that men should understand is ethnicity. Even though scientists have not been able to find a reason behind this risk factor, it has been established that black men are much more likely to develop prostate cancer when compared to white men.
These are not the only findings that have been made. There seem to be other associations with race and prostate cancer, as well. For example, Asian men might be at a higher risk for prostate cancer, but this increased risk only seems to be present for Asian men who reside in an urbanized location.
Lifestyle has a significant impact on several aspects of health. It has been found that unhealthy lifestyle habits can greatly contribute to adverse effects on both the psychological and physiological well-being of the human body.
One particular aspect that needs to be taken into consideration here is the fact that obesity seems to increase the risk of prostate cancer among men.
Studies have found that abdominal obesity is mainly a concern when it comes to looking at how lifestyle factors can affect a man’s risk of developing cancer in their prostate5.
A healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of obesity in men. In turn, this would have a positive effect on the man’s risk of developing prostate cancer.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
An unfortunate fact about prostate cancer is that a large number of patients will not experience any noticeable symptoms during the earlier stages of the disease. This is why there are cases where treatment for prostate cancer may be initiated at a later stage – when earlier initiation of the procedures would have yielded better results.
Still, some early signs have been identified to signal the development of prostate cancer potentially.
When a male patient experiences these symptoms, prostate cancer screening should be considered. This will help the man obtain a diagnosis if they have developed this disease – and ensure a specialist can take appropriate action.
Urinary symptoms are often some of the very first signs that develop when a man develops prostate cancer. This can cause issues with urination and with the bladder.
A large number of men will find that pain or a burning sensation is experienced during urination. Urinary incontinence is another important early warning sign of prostate cancer that should not go unnoticed.
Other symptoms that men need to take notice of as well include:
- There may be a reduction in the flow of urine when the man urinates.
- Bladder control may become problematic.
- The man may find that they need to urinate more frequently at night.
- Hematuria can develop in some men, which is a term used to describe blood that is present in the urine of the patient.
- Erectile function may be adversely affected too. In this case, the man may find that they start to develop symptoms usually associated with erectile dysfunction.
- Ejaculation may become painful when a male patient develops prostate cancer.
- There are also some cases where a man may find that blood is present in their semen when they ejaculate.
Men should have an understanding of prostate cancer stages. As the disease advances, the symptoms described above may become more severe. There are also specific signs that may indicate a more severe type of this disease, such as advanced prostate cancer.
Men who develop a more advanced type of prostate cancer may find that their pelvic area becomes swollen. There may also be swelling in the legs in some cases. Some men may experience numbness in the feet, legs, and hips. Pain symptoms would sometimes accompany the numbness as well6.
Prostate Cancer treatment options
Various treatments have been developed to help patients diagnosed with prostate cancer experience a reduced risk of dying from the disease. It is, however, important that men view all of their options and consider what would work best for them.
In some cases, when prostate cancer is localized and not regarded as dangerous, watchful waiting might be the answer. In other cases, more invasive treatments may be needed, such as Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer surgery is another option that may also be advised in serious cases.
Treatment for prostate cancer is dependent on test results. A specialist first needs to determine the severity of the condition – and then implement an appropriate treatment plan for the patient.
When there is no need to be concerned at the moment, frequent tests may be performed on the person without initiating any immediate treatments.
The Gleason Score of the patient, along with PSA levels, and biopsies will be frequently measured. This helps the specialist determine if prostate cancer is advancing.
Other treatment options that may be used in cases where the specialists find that a procedure is needed to reduce the risk of complications include:
- Hypofractionated radiation therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Hormonal therapy
- Beam radiation therapy
Surgical procedures have also been introduced to help men who are at risk of suffering a spreading of the cancerous cells. When this occurs, the disease may become life-threatening.
Nerve-sparing surgery is a specialized surgical procedure that has been developed to help reduce the risk of causing nerve damage.
Prostate cancer surgery can involve several types of procedures. A range of tests needs to be conducted before a surgeon will be able to perform such a procedure. These tests will help the patient and the specialist understand what the best procedure for prostate cancer would be.
Surgical options that may be used to help the patient include:
- Open radical prostatectomy
- Laparoscopic radical prostatectomy
- Transurethral resection of the prostate
Prostate Cancer treatment side effects
Before deciding on what treatment method to be used, a patient should be informed of the prostate cancer treatment side effects that they will be facing.
Each treatment has its way of helping to reduce the risk of complications caused by prostate cancer – but, at the same time, the side-effects of these treatments can also be a disadvantage.
Patients who undergo prostate surgery are at risk of experiencing a reaction to the anesthesia used during the procedure. There is also a risk of bleeding from the procedure, as well as an increased risk of developing blood clots in the patient’s lungs or legs.
Nearby organs can be damaged if special care is not taken during the surgical procedure. Another important risk of surgical procedures used to treat prostate cancer is infection7.
When radiation therapy is used on the patient, there are several side-effects that a patient may experience. These should be considered as well, even though radiation therapy is less invasive than undergoing a surgical procedure.
Possible side-effects include8:
- Urine may have blood present
- Abdominal cramping
- There may be bleeding in the rectum
- Bowel movements may cause pain symptoms
- Frequent urination
- Painful urination
- The patient may have a hard time initiating a urine stream
- There may be a leakage of urine due to reduced bladder control
- Sexual dysfunction may occur
- Fatigue is also relatively common
The use of Chemotherapy as a treatment option may also cause the following side-effects9:
- A reduction in blood cell count
- Hair loss
- Sore throat
- Sore mouth
- A loss of the patient’s appetite
How to manage possible side effects of treatment
The side-effects of treatments used for prostate cancer can be unpleasant, but there are cases where a patient’s life would depend on these procedures.
In these scenarios, the patient should be aware of methods that can be used to effectively manage the side effects and reduce the effect that these events have on their life.
Men who experience problems with erectile function might consider talking to their doctor about oral medicines that could help them experience improved erections.
There is a medical device known as a vacuum erection device, that can also be used to initiate an erection. Penile injection therapy is another possible option that the patient might consider.
When there is a concern about fertility problems as one of the prostate cancer treatment side effects, the patient should consider having sperm stored at a fertility clinic prior to the treatments.
Men with urinary incontinence may consider trying out pelvic floor exercises. It is also important to drink enough water and limit the consumption of carbonated drinks, alcohol, coffee, and tea. These drinks can cause the bladder to become irritated.
Prostate cancer is a relatively common disease among men. The early detection of prostate cancer cells can help to ensure treatment is initiated before cancer can spread outside of the gland.
Patients who are undergoing treatment should understand the risks and know what to expect. This is why learning about prostate cancer treatment side effects should be an important part of the process a man takes after being diagnosed with this disease.