The ABC of Prostate Cancer

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March 8, 2011

Introduction

The prostate is a gland of the male reproductive system, located in front of the rectum and at the base of the urinary bladder. It surrounds a part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine. In adults, it is about the size and shape of a large walnut weighing about 20 grams.

what does the prostate do?

The main function is sexual reproduction. During development, around the same time that  testicles develop the ability to produce sperm, it becomes mature enough to produce the seminal fluid that supports the sperm. Several small glands within the prostate, produce and store secretions more or less continuously. It makes about 90 percent of the milky semen in which sperm travel during orgasm and ejaculation.

How do doctors examine it?

This is a relatively simple, painless process that takes about a minute. While you bend at the waist and lean over an examining table or chair, the doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger up your rectum ( digital rectal examination- DRE) to the point where he can feel your prostate. If you are over 40 years, have this done every year.

How does it feel like?

A normal prostate feels smooth and elastic. Cancerous ones feel lumpy with abnormal texture and hardened. If enlarged, it could indicate the onset of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition that afflicts most men as they age, and it  grows, choking the prostatic urethra and obstructing the flow of urine.

What is prostate cancer? 

This is almost always a primary cancer, meaning that it originates in the prostate, rather than traveling there from another part of the body. It begins in the outer part of the prostate and may spread inwards. It can also spread, to other parts of the body but is a  very slow-growing malignancy.

What causes it?

Genetic factors play a bigger role as it is common in families of men with prostate cancer. Chronic prostate inflammation may also pay a role but a high animal fat content in the diet is one of the common environmental factors related to prostatic carcinoma.

Who gets prostate cancer? 

Estimates show that approximately one in every eight American men is diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. The geographic differences in the incidence of prostate cancer may be explained by genetic factors as heredity seems to be the most important risk factor. Men with a family history of prostate cancer have a 4-fold increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

Who’s at risk ? 

The older males. Small prostate cancers are present in 29% of men between age 30 and 40 and 64% of men between age 60 and 70.

Any protective diets?

Food components have been suggested to protect men from the risk of prostate cancer,including soy, carotenoids, tomatoes, pumpkin, spinach, watermelon, citrus, and green tea.

How  is it diagnosed?

In addition to DRE, a blood test called prostatic surface antigen (PSA) is a better independent predictor of prostate cancer. The normal  PSA level is between 4 and 10 ng/ml, and if more than 10, there is a higher chance that one has prostate cancer. Performing a prostate biopsy is the standard way to prove the presence of cancer.

It is  curable? 

As with any cancer, that depends on what stage it has reached. The vast majority of men whose tumors are still confined to the prostate when they’re diagnosed live as long as men who never get prostate cancer. If the cancer has escaped the prostatic capsule, the survival rate falls due to complications developing.

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