The Biology of the Prostate
The prostate is the most common form of cancer in men, with a rate of about 1 in 9. This article will discuss in detail the biology, causes, prevention, stages, and treatment of this deadly disease to keep you informed.
The prostate gland is a small organ that is found next to the bladder and between the penis and rectum in men. It develops in adolescence due to the release of the hormones testosterone and dihydrotestosterone. It’s approximately the size of a walnut, but it holds a lot of importance in the male reproductive system (1).
The prostate produces the semen, which then mixes with sperm from the testicles. Additionally, some substances help to protect the sperm as it travels, like zinc, citrate, fructose, and enzymes called Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA). According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the semen also contains antibodies that can prevent bacteria from infiltrating the urinary tract and semen.
As men get older, they often experience symptoms associated with prostate enlargements such as difficult urination, frequent urination, and a thin urine stream. This condition is called benign prostatic hypertrophy, and it is not necessarily associated with prostate cancer. However, some of these issues may also occur with cancer. (2).
Explaining Prostate Cancer
It is one of the slowest growing cancers that exist. It begins as a tumor in the back of the prostate gland, where it may not be overly dangerous. It’s only when it begins to spread faster that it becomes a huge risk (3). However, the Mayo Clinic states that each case is unique, and some may be more aggressive than others.
Once cells start to separate from the tumor, they can spread to the bladder, rectum, lymph nodes, bones, or other parts of the body. These cells can develop into secondary tumors. At this point, the disease becomes much harder to treat. The early detection of prostate cancer has a relatively good chance of successful treatment (4).
Why Do Men Develop Prostate Cancer?
The causes of prostate cancer development are relatively unknown. In general, what occurs is that some of the cells in the gland become mutated, and the abnormal cells grow rapidly. These abnormal cells can kill other normal cells nearby. The cells develop into a tumor, which can then spread to other parts of the body.
Although the general causes of this cancer are unclear, there are several risk factors for developing prostate cancer that can be considered causes. These include:
Although you can get prostate cancer at any age, in theory, your chances increase greatly as you get older. According to the American Cancerwesq1ddds Society, about 60% of prostate cancer cases occur in men above the age of 65.
Poor diet is one of the causes of prostate cancer. Consuming too much sugar, fat, too few vegetables, and processed foods can increase your risk of developing this disease. In addition, eating too much could be an issue. Obesity elevates your chances of contracting prostate cancer (4).
One of the important causes of prostate cancer is smoking. Men who smoke are twice likely to develop and more likely to die from it. Quitting smoking reduces your risk to that of a non-smoker within 10 years (4). Men who smoke heavily increase their risk of death from prostate cancer by 24-30% compared to non-smokers (5).
Prostate cancer does have a genetic component. If your father and/or grandfather had it, this increases your chances. According to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, 5-10% of the cases of prostate cancer are due to genetic history.
Although the reasons for it are unclear, there is some ethnic difference in the incidence of prostate cancer. African American and Caribbean men are most likely of all of the races to be diagnosed. The lowest incidence is in Asian American and Hispanic men (6).
One of the causes of prostate cancer is where you live in the world. Some areas simply have better screening procedures and are more likely to catch the condition right away when it’s very treatable. Cases are highest in North Europe and North America (4).
Prostate Cancer Signs
Often when the condition is just developing, there are no symptoms of prostate cancer. As the disease progresses, men may begin to develop signs of an enlarged prostate such as frequent urination, blocked urination, a weak urine stream, or other similar urinary tract issues.
Other signs of prostate cancer may develop, including (4):
- Losing weight
- No appetite
- Erectile dysfunction
- Painful erections
- Bloody urine
- Bone pain
- Back, thigh, or hip pain
- Pelvic pain
If you experience any of these symptoms, go to your doctor immediately and get checked. Catch it early, and it can be very treatable.
The Stages of Prostate Cancer
There are several prostate cancer stages that men progress through when they have this disease. These include the following (6):
The tumor is in this period is in one of the lobes and takes up half or less of the space. This stage also describes the situation where the cancer was discovered while carrying out another procedure.
At this point in the prostate cancer stages, the tumor takes up more than half of a lobe or both lobes.
In this stage, the tumor has extended outside of the prostate into the urinary tract or in the glands located above the prostate.
This is one of the stages that is referred to as metastatic cancer, and it occurs when cancer has spread to either the lymph nodes or to other bodily organs.
Recurrent Prostate Cancer: Some men end up with a recurrence of prostate cancer even when they have been treated. A local recurrence means it returns to its original location. With a regional recurrence, it spreads to other parts of the body.
How to Prevent Prostate Cancer?
Naturally, there’s no way to prevent prostate cancer 100% since there are so many factors involved. However, there are some lifestyle choices you can make that can certainly decrease your chances of developing the disease. Here are some suggestions:
- Follow a Healthy Diet: There’s a strong link between diet and your chances of developing cancers like prostate cancer. Experts recommend lots of fruits and vegetables, fiber, and low fat and sugar. Eat foods with antioxidants like berries, mangoes, and pumpkin.
- Stay at a Normal Weight: Being overweight is a big risk factor for prostate cancer. If you are obese, try to get within a normal weight range by changing your exercise and eating habits. This can literally save your life.
- Exercise Regularly: According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s some evidence that men who exercise on a regular basis have a lower chance of developing prostate cancer. In addition, working out a few times a week boosts your general immunity.
- Avoid Smoking: If you’re a smoker, this could be a good time to think about quitting. Smoking is a big risk factor for developing prostate cancer, and it increases your chances considerably.
- Get Regular Screenings: A screening is a test performed on someone who has no active symptoms of the disease. For prostate cancer, the test involves a rectal examination and a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test.
The Most Effective Prostate Cancer Treatments
There are numerous treatment options for prostate cancer but, the route you take will depend on the details of your condition, your age and weight, the seriousness of your illness, and your personal preferences. Your options are as follows:
Active Surveillance or Watchful Waiting: Because prostate cancer is such a slow-growing disease, some patients don’t require any real treatment. The physician, in this case, will recommend either watchful waiting or active surveillance.
Watchful waiting is just paying attention to any possible symptoms and following up with occasional testing. Active surveillance involves much more testing, including a PSA test every 6 months and a rectal exam once a year. It may also include a biopsy every 1-3 years (7).
Surgery: The primary surgical procedure is a radical prostatectomy. It involves removing the entire prostate and some of the surrounding tissues like the seminal vesicles (8).
Radiation: This technique uses intense rays to kill the cancerous cells. The surgeon can direct photon beams to the specific area where the cancer is found. This makes it less likely that there will be damage to other bodily tissues (9).
Cryotherapy: This procedure involves freezing the prostate gland to kill cancerous cells. The surgeon inserts needles called cryoprobes into the prostate to perform the freezing. The procedure is done under anesthetic. There will be follow up with regular PSA tests after this surgery (4).
Focal Therapy: Focal therapy is made up of several different procedures. There’s high-intensity focused ultrasound, which employs heat and sound to kill the cancerous cells.
Focal cryoablation involves the insertion of a needle with a potent substance in it into the tumor, freezing it and killing cells. Finally, irreversible electroporation uses a knife to send electricity through the tumor, leading to the creation of little holes and cell death (4).
Hormone Therapy: The purpose of androgen deprivation therapy is to block testosterone and other hormones that can make cancer worse. By eliminating testosterone from the cancerous cells, it slows their growth.
It’s often used to treat men whose cancers have returned. This therapy can be done with either medication, or surgically. The surgery is called orchiectomy which involves removal of the testes and glands. Medications are often non-steroidal anti-androgens, which block testosterone. Luteinizing hormones are also used (4).
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves transmitting medication to the patient by mouth or needle. The drugs can reach every area of the body that has cancer cells.
Immunotherapy: This procedure uses medications, but their purpose is to improve the patient’s immune system so that it can kill the cancerous cells more efficiently. The primary treatment is a cancer vaccine.
Men over the age of 65 are at the highest risk for developing prostate cancer. Also, among ethnicities, African American and Caribbean men have the highest likelihood of being diagnosed (10). Other risk groups are men who do not take care of their health by eating poorly, smoking, and drinking. These are all possible causes of prostate cancer.
Yes, it does. Men have a 2-3 times greater chance of developing this disease if a close male relative has also had it. This means it’s really important for men with a family history to start getting screenings early (4).
Prostate cancer usually has a good prognosis if you catch it early. The tumor grows very slowly. However, if it has progressed beyond the prostate area into the rest of the body, it can indeed be fatal.
The prostate is one of the slowest growing cancers. It could grow for months or even years without the man noticing the signs of prostate cancer. However, it is also possible for the tumor to grow more quickly than that, which would require immediate treatment.
Scientists suggest that men who have prostate cancer follow a largely plant-based diet, which includes a lot of fruits and vegetables. It should be low in fat, high in fiber, and restricted in sugar (11).
Prostate cancer is a disease that concerns many men, and for this reason we recommend getting screened early and taking good care of your health. Following a healthy diet, exercising, keeping your weight down, and avoiding smoking are some good preventative measures you can take.
Besides, you should keep in touch with your doctor regularly and report whether you have any of the symptoms of prostate cancer. If you do get a diagnosis of this cancer, understand that it is a very slow-growing tumor and much easier to treat than many other forms.