Prostate Cancer: About Prostate Cancer

The prostate is a walnut-size gland found only in men. It makes and stores semen, a milky liquid that nourishes sperm. Located below the bladder and in front of the rectum, the prostate surrounds the upper part of the urethra, the tube that empties urine from the bladder. The gland helps regulate bladder control and sexual functioning.

Pictured: Vincent Laudone
Video

Memorial Sloan Kettering medical experts discuss prostate cancer, including new approaches to screening and treatment.

(04:00)

Nearly all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas, cancers that begin in the glandular cells. Prostate cancer develops in men as they age. Its underlying causes are still not entirely understood, although important strides have been made in the past decade in elucidating the molecular, genetic, environmental, and dietary factors that may play roles in the development and progression of the disease.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, excluding skin cancer, in the United States. Each year, more than 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and an estimated 30,000 will die from this disease. But it is important to know that more men will die with prostate cancer rather than because of it.

Not all prostate cancers are alike. More than 90 percent are found when they are confined to the gland, and while some spread early and require drug treatment (medical therapies), many others are slow-growing and unlikely to cause serious problems during a man’s lifetime.

Because prostate cancer can behave very differently in individual men, assessing the risk of the disease spreading to other parts of the body and producing symptoms — and reassessing the risk over time — is a crucial part of delivering the best possible individualized care. At Memorial Sloan Kettering, our multidisciplinary team of experts approaches diagnosis and treatment in a dynamic way, constantly evaluating and reevaluating each patient and the status of his illness so that appropriate, personalized treatment decisions can be made. Learn more about our approach to diagnosis and treatment.

Risk Factors

The following factors may increase your risk of developing prostate cancer:

Prostate and Surrounding Organs Enlarge Image Prostate and Surrounding Organs Age

Advanced age is the biggest risk factor for developing prostate cancer, which usually occurs in men older than age 50. More than 60 percent of tumors are found in men 65 or older.

Race & Nationality

African American men are at higher risk for prostate cancer than Caucasian men. They are also more likely to have advanced disease at the time of diagnosis and are more likely to die of prostate cancer. The incidence of prostate cancer is lower in Asia and Africa than in Europe and the United States.

Family History

Men with close relatives (such as a father or brother) who have had prostate cancer — especially if they were younger than 60 at the time of diagnosis — are at greater risk for the disease. Studies suggest that 5 to 10 percent of all cases of prostate cancer may be related to inherited genetic factors.

Hormones

High levels of the male sex hormone testosterone may cause or speed the development of prostate cancer.

Symptoms

Many men with prostate cancer have no noticeable symptoms. Often, the first sign of the disease is an abnormal finding on a routine screening exam. Others may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Frequent urge or inability to urinate and/or waking more frequently during the night to urinate
  • Trouble starting or holding back urine flow
  • Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs
  • Painful ejaculation or trouble having an erection

Experiencing these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have prostate cancer, however. Some of these symptoms are also found in men with a noncancerous condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), an enlargement of the prostate gland. Speak with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.