Prostate Cancer: Common But Frequently Survivable

Survival rates are generally quite high for the second-most-common cancer among men in the United States.

Survival rates are generally quite high for the second-most-common cancer among men in the United States.

Prostate cancer is the second-most-common cancer among men in the United States, and the American Cancer Society estimates that 238,590 new cases will be diagnosed in 2013. However, most men who are diagnosed will survive the disease. In fact, there are currently more than 2.5 million prostate cancer survivors in the United States alone.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for all stages of prostate cancer is higher than 99%, the 10-year relative survival rate is 98%, and the 15-year relative survival rate is 93%. (The relative survival rate compares the survival rate of men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer to that of their peers who have not been diagnosed with it.) Nonetheless, prostate cancer remains a serious disease; when the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, the 5-year relative survival rate is just 28%.

Prostate cancer begins in the prostate, with most cases beginning in the gland cells. Most prostate cancers progress slowly, and often do not cause problems during a man’s lifetime. In fact, autopsy studies show that some men with prostate cancer die from other causes without ever knowing they had the disease. Approximately 60% of cases are diagnosed in men aged 65 and older, and the average age at diagnosis is 67. The disease is rare in men younger than 40.

Little is known about what causes prostate cancer, but some risk factors have been associated with the disease. Older age, family history of prostate cancer, and certain races and nationalities have been linked with increased chances of developing the disease. In the United States, African-Americans are more likely to develop prostate cancer and more likely to have aggressive forms and to die from the cancer than are men of other races. Some studies also suggest that obese men and men whose diets are high in red meat and fatty dairy products are at increased risk for prostate cancer.

Because the disease progresses slowly, prostate cancer often does not cause symptoms in its early stages. Symptoms of advanced forms of prostate cancer vary and are also associated with other conditions. These can include problems urinating, erectile dysfunction, weakness or numbness in the legs or feet, loss of bladder or bowel control, bloody urine, and spinal, hip, or rib pain.

Without clear signs and symptoms, prostate cancer is often diagnosed when asymptomatic men are screened for the disease, most commonly using the prostate-specific antigen blood test (PSA). Digital rectal exams are also used to test for prostate cancer. If test results are abnormal, a physician may order an ultrasound or collect a sample of prostate tissue to confirm a diagnosis.

Both of these tests at times give false positive or false negative results, which has led many organizations and agencies, such as the United States Preventive Services Task Force, to recommend against the PSA test. However, the American Cancer Society advises men to discuss screening with their physician in order to understand their individual risk.

Studies suggest that men can take steps to help prevent onset of prostate cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables may lower the risk for developing the disease.