Prostate cancer begins with small changes or abnormalities in the shape and size of the prostate gland cells. Eventually, these cells form tumours.
The prostate is a small gland that surrounds the urethra and is located below the bladder. Its primary function is to produce fluid or semen that protects and transports sperm.
How does prostate cancer develop?
Prostate cancer develops when cells in the prostate gland regenerate abnormally. Prostate cancer grows slowly and usually remains confined to the prostate gland.
Prostate cancer only affects males since women do not have a prostate gland. It is one of the most common forms of cancer in men.
How does prostate cancer spread?
Prostate cancer can spread when cells break away from the tumour and travel through the lymphatic system or bloodstream to other parts of the body where they can create secondary tumours.
When cancer cells spread it is called metastasis. Usually, prostate cancer metastasis occurs in the lymph nodes and bones. Other common locations include lungs, liver and brain.
What causes prostate cancer?
There are no specific known causes of prostate cancer. However, scientists have identified several factors which can increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.
As with all cancers, the risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age. Most cases are diagnosed in men over the age of 50. The overall risk of developing prostate cancer before the age of 85 is 1 in 5.
Ethnic background is another known risk factor. Prostate cancer is more common in men of African-Caribbean and African descent and is less common in men of Asian descent.
The risk of developing prostate is greater for men who had a male relative develop prostate cancer before reaching 60 years old.
Also, some research shows a link between prostate cancer and lifestyle choices, such as a diet high in red meat or high-fat dairy products. Research continues to identify other links between lifestyle and environmental factors and prostate cancer.
What different types of prostate cancer exist?
The type of prostate cancer that develops depends on the type of cell where it starts. The most common form of prostate cancer develops in the gland cells of the prostate. This is called adenocarcinoma, or it is sometimes referred to as acinar adenocarcinoma.
Other types of prostate cancer are rare. These develop from different cells in the prostate. For example, neuroendocrine prostate cancer is a small-cell prostate cancer that develops from neuroendocrine cells.
Some patients can develop more than one type of prostate cancer.
Treating and preventing prostate cancer
Because most prostate cancers are slow growing, there are a variety of treatment options that are less aggressive and may not require surgery. These include active surveillance, prostatectomy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
An emerging body of research is indicating that knowing a tumour’s genomic profile could be more important for successful treatment than knowing its location or size. As each tumour’s genomic profile is unique, this approach is often referred to as personalised or precision medicine.
Some of the treatments for prostate cancer have side effects. Common side effects include incontinence, erectile dysfunction and weight gain.
There are no known proven strategies to prevent prostate cancer. Researchers suggest adopting a healthy lifestyle and getting regular check-ups to catch any irregularities early.