Prostatitis vs Prostate Cancer: How To Tell The Difference

The prostate gland is an integral part of the male reproductive system. The gland secretes prostate fluid, which nourishes sperm. The gland sits around the urethra, which forms part of the urinary tract.

A prostate problem can result in complications with the functioning of this gland. In some cases, prostate conditions can also lead to urinary symptoms. 

Multiple conditions can affect the prostate gland. Prostatitis vs prostate cancer is a common comparison, particularly due to the common symptoms in many cases.

Understanding the signs that signal a prostate condition is important. Men should also understand the difference between these two conditions. In this post, we take a look at how they differ and the available treatments. 

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What Is Prostate Cancer?

Cancer is a severe disease that can affect various parts of the human body. Cancer can affect the prostate gland too. Prostate cancer is a relatively common disease. The American Cancer Society reports roughly 248,530 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2021. Among men with existing prostate cancer, 34,130 are expected to die from the disease in the same year. 

Among men, prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancerous diseases. Cancer that affects the prostate gland tends to grow slowly. The gradual development often means no initial symptoms can be detected.

In some cases, a doctor will not advise on any treatment for the moment. This is generally the case when the patient has localized prostate cancer. In such a case, the cancer is localized to the prostate gland and does not spread to the surrounding tissues. 

Not all prostate cancers are localized and slow-growing. In some men, prostate cancer can be more aggressive. This is often metastatic prostate cancer. An aggressive type may also be prostate cancer metastasis, which refers to cancer spreading to other tissues. In the case of metastatic prostate cancer, it is not only the surrounding tissue that will be affected.

The cancerous cells can enter the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body. In addition to spreading through the blood circulatory system, the cancer cells can also enter the lymphatic system. 

Spreading

In patients with prostate cancer metastasis, it is relatively common for cancer to spread to the following areas:

  • The liver

  • The lungs

  • Lymph nodes throughout the body

  • Bones

  • The brain

There are rare cases where prostate cancer metastasis also affects other areas of the body. This may include the breasts, eyes, the pancreas, and the adrenal glands. Some men have also experienced cancer in their kidneys and muscles due to the metastasis of prostate cancer. 

What Is Prostatitis?

Prostatitis is another condition that affects the prostate gland. This condition involves prostate inflammation. In addition to the swelling, the prostate gland will also become tender when prostatitis develops. Prostatitis is not caused by cancerous cells. It is also not the same as an enlarged prostate, which is due to by benign prostatic hyperplasia. 

Studies have found that an estimated 8.2% of male patients may have prostatitis. Among urologist visits, about 8% are related to prostatitis. In primary care settings, around 1% of men making an appointment are found to have this condition. 

Different types of this condition exist. It is vital for men to understand how different types develop and what symptoms they cause. There are specific causes behind each type of condition. 

4 Main Types

  • Acute bacterial prostatitis: In this case, bacteria travel from the urinary tract toward the prostate gland. An infection develops in the prostate. The bacteria may come from a urinary tract infection. This is considered a serious complication and requires medical attention. 

  • Chronic bacterial prostatitis: This type of prostatitis is also caused by bacteria traveling to the prostate gland. It is not as severe as acute bacterial prostatitis but can still be problematic. Most cases of chronic bacterial prostatitis are seen in the older population. It is common to find chronic bacterial prostatitis in men who recently had a urinary tract infection. Symptoms associated with this prostatitis condition usually do not remain present for too long but rather become present in episodes. 

  • Chronic prostatitis: The condition is not always caused by bacteria. Chronic prostatitis is considered the most prevalent type of disease. Similar characteristics as with chronic bacterial prostatitis can be observed. The primary difference is no bacteria is present in the prostate gland. This type of prostatitis is sometimes called chronic pelvic pain syndrome too. 

  • Asymptomatic prostatitis: The condition does not always cause symptoms. When inflammation affects the prostate gland, but no symptoms are reported, then the man may have asymptomatic prostatitis. This particular type of prostatitis has been linked to a higher risk of infertility. 

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Prostate Cancer Vs Prostatitis?

Some symptoms associated with prostate cancer and prostatitis may be similar. Both conditions can cause pressure against the urinary tract. In turn, this can result in urinary symptoms. There are, however, specific factors that differentiate the two conditions.

Men need to understand how they can differentiate between prostatitis and prostate cancer. This will ensure the man takes appropriate actions to prevent serious complications. 

Considering the specific symptoms associated with each condition is important. Men should consider all of the symptoms they experience and then compare the symptoms to signs of the two diseases. 

Prostatitis Symptoms

In terms of prostatitis, the symptoms may differ based on the specific type of the disease that the patient has. Some kinds of prostatitis are more serious and cause severe symptoms. There are also certain types of disease that causes no symptoms. 

With acute bacterial prostatitis, the following symptoms may develop:

  • The patient may have a high fever

  • Some patients have chills

  • Trouble urinating

  • There may be a consistent urge to urinate

  • There may be pain symptoms at the scrotum and the base of the patient’s penis

  • Urine may have a cloudy appearance

The symptoms associated with chronic bacterial prostatitis may include:

  • Pain in the rectum and lower back

  • Pain symptoms when the man ejaculates

  • Painful urination

  • Nighttime urinary urge

  • Semen may have blood in it

  • A weaker urine stream 

Chronic prostatitis with no bacteria present causes similar symptoms. In this particular case, however, pain often affects the tip of the penis, as well as the perineum. Some men experience pain symptoms in the lower region of their abdomen too. 

Prostate Cancer Symptoms

Similar to certain types of prostatitis, prostate cancer is likely to cause urinary symptoms in the patient. One thing that should be noted is that prostate cancer is usually asymptomatic during the early stages. Men generally first experience symptoms when the tumor has grown larger. 

Symptoms that may develop if a man has prostate cancer include:

  • Urine flow may be weaker than normal 

  • The man will find that they urinate more frequently

  • There may be blood in the man’s urine

  • Blood can also be present in semen

  • A burning sensation may be experienced when urinating

  • Discomfort may be experienced when the man sits

  • Urine frequency increases during the night

What Causes Prostatitis Vs Prostate Cancer?

The causes behind prostatitis and prostate cancer differ. Men should realize how these conditions develop. By understanding the causes and risk factors, men can better understand how likely they are to develop either of the conditions.

Furthermore, this may also help them understand why they have the disease and implement risk reduction strategies. 

A bacterial infection sometimes causes prostatitis. In this case, bacteria leak from a different area to the prostate gland. Urinary tract infection is a major risk factor for bacterial prostatitis, but this is not always the cause. Bacteria can spread from the male patient’s rectum toward the prostate gland, for example.

When the bacteria enter the prostate gland, it may start to grow and divide. This leads to an infection. A prostatic abscess can develop in some cases, especially in a scenario where a man has acute bacterial prostatitis. 

Certain sexually transmitted infections can also affect the prostate gland. The Chlamydia trachomatis microorganism, for example, can cause infection in the prostate gland. Neisseria gonorrhea has also been associated with a risk of prostate infection, leading to prostatitis development. 

Bacteria is not always the cause behind prostatitis. In men with chronic prostatitis where no bacteria are found, the specific cause will often not be identified at all. It does seem like men with an enlarged prostate are more likely to develop prostatitis. Dehydration is another potential risk factor that could also increase a man’s risk of prostatitis. 

With prostate cancer and prostatic adenocarcinoma, it is known that cells start to become abnormal. The reason behind the abnormal behavior of the cells is unclear to scientists at the moment. Cells in the gland start to grow faster, and they continue to survive while other healthy cells are replaced. The cells become cancerous and cause a tumor to develop. 

Risk factors

Researchers have discovered a number of risk factors that increase the likeliness for prostate cancer to develop. Men can use this data to determine how high of a risk they have for the condition. 

Below is an overview of risk factors that have been associated with prostate cancer:

  • Age plays an important role. Most men diagnosed with prostate cancer are 50 years or older. 

  • A family history also seems to have an impact. When a blood relative has been diagnosed with this disease in the past, such as a parent, the man has a greater risk of developing the condition himself.

  • Another potential risk factor is obesity. Excess weight in the body can cause several complications. It has been found that among men who are obese, prostate cancer also tends to be more aggressive. 

Are The Treatments For Prostatitis And Prostate Cancer Different?

Prostate cancer and prostatitis are not the same conditions. With this in mind, treatment options are also different for the two diseases. 

The treatment for prostatitis depends on the cause. In cases where bacteria are behind the prostatic disease, antibiotic therapy will be used. Antibiotics help to treat the bacterial infection. Prostatic inflammation may be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. The patient may also be provided drugs to help with pelvic pain.

With prostatic hyperplasia, the anti-inflammatory drugs may help to improve urinary symptoms. Men who develop erectile dysfunction may find that these drugs’ use slowly improves their erectile function as the condition resolves. 

With prostate cancer, a PSA test will usually be done. The doctor needs to ask the patient a number of questions. The patient should provide details on prostatic secretions and other symptoms they experience. A prostate biopsy may be done to help with the diagnosis. The tests are used to help the doctor determine the severity of cancer. 

If the cancer is localized to prostate tissue and not considered serious, a doctor may ask the patient to wait and have cancer frequently monitored. In cases where the cancer is severe, however, immediate treatment may be advised. Treatment will reduce the risk of metastasis – which is when cancer starts to spread to other areas of the body. 

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may both be considered to assist in the treatment of prostate cancer. Surgical treatment will sometimes be required, depending on the findings of initial tests. The doctor will discuss their findings and suggested treatment options to the patient. 

What Should I Do If I Think I Have Prostate Problems?

Men need to ensure they understand what symptoms can occur when they have prostate problems. By recognizing the symptoms, the patient can ensure they take appropriate actions. We have listed the common symptoms associated with both prostate cancer and prostatitis. These, however, are not the only conditions that can affect the prostate gland. 

This is why men need to ensure they consider any symptoms related to their prostate or urinary tract. The presence of these symptoms does not always signal something serious, but the risk still exists. When such symptoms present themselves, the patient should ensure they make an appointment with their doctor. A doctor can do a digital rectal exam as an initial diagnostic tool. Once completed, the doctor may advise on additional tests to be conducted. 

It is also important that men realize both prostatitis and prostate cancer can be asymptomatic at an early stage. When these conditions are in an early stage, it is generally much easier to treat them. Thus, diagnosis during such a state should be prioritized. With this in mind, men should ensure they visit a doctor for a prostate check-up every year.

But, older men may need to go for a check-up more frequently. A doctor can advise the patient on the best interval for these check-ups. During a rectal exam, the doctor can feel for anomalies with the prostate gland and initiate early treatment if they detect a problem. 

Conclusion

Prostatitis and prostate cancer can cause somewhat similar symptoms. This, therefore, can make a man confused about the condition they have. With prostatitis, treatment tends to work effectively, leading to a successful recovery. Prostate cancer, however, can be difficult to treat and is more likely to cause fatal complications. 

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Sources

  1. American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Prostate Cancer. [online] Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
  2. MayoClinic. Prostate cancer metastasis: Where does prostate cancer spread? [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prostate-cancer/expert-answers/prostate-cancer-metastasis/faq-20058270
  3. American Family Physician. (2010) Prostatitis: Diagnosis and Treatment. [online] Available at: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0815/p397.html
  4. Cancer.Net. (2019) Prostate Cancer: Symptoms and Signs. [online] Available at: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/prostate-cancer/symptoms-and-signs

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