The cause of prostate cancer is unknown. However, it is known that the growth of cancer cells in the prostate, like that of normal prostate cells, is stimulated by male hormones, especially testosterone. Testosterone is produced almost entirely by the testes (about 95%), with only a small percentage (about 5%) being produced by the adrenal glands (small glands that sit above each kidney).
Compared with other types of cancer, generally, prostate cancer is relatively slow growing. A man with prostate cancer may live for many years without ever having the cancer discovered. In fact, many men with prostate cancer will not die from it but with it. As a man gets older, his risk of developing prostate cancer increases. More than 70% of prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over 65 years of age. 1
As the cancer grows, it may eventually squeeze the urethra, which is surrounded by the prostate. Then, symptoms such as difficulty in urinating may develop. This is usually the first clinical symptom of prostate cancer. (It is important to note, however, that difficulty in urinating can be caused by other, noncancerous conditions of the prostate and does not always mean that prostate cancer is present.) With or without symptoms, a growing prostate cancer can also attack cells close to the prostate.
Cells can break off from the cancer and spread. Sites where prostate cancer tends to spread are the lymph nodes, various bones (especially the bones of the hip and lower back), lungs, and occasionally the brain. Cancer cells that have spread to other areas of the body can form tumors that can expand and squeeze other body parts. For example, when prostate cancer spreads to the bones, the most common symptom is bone pain.
Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in America ; 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Only 1 in 10,000 under age 40 will be diagnosed. In fact, about 65% of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65.
Race and family history are important as well. African American men are 56% more likely to develop prostate cancer compared with Caucasian men, and are nearly 2.5 times as likely to die from the disease. Men with a single relative with a history of prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease, while those with two or more relatives are nearly four times as likely to be diagnosed.
Social and environmental factors, particularly diet and lifestyle, likely have an effect. The exact relationship between obesity and prostate cancer remains unclear, but there is no doubt that obesity can have a negative effect on outcomes. Research has shown that prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test results in obese men can be lower despite the presence of disease, potentially leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment; recovery from surgery tends to be longer and more difficult; and the risk of dying from prostate cancer can be higher.
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