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The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped gland located within the groin, between the bladder and the penis. This gland plays an important role in reproduction, as it is responsible for producing fluid that protects the sperm. The urethra — which helps urine flow out of the body — runs from the bladder to the penis, right through the center of the prostate gland. During ejaculation, the prostate secretes this seminal fluid into the urethra, which then mixes with the sperm — helping the sperm travel and survive.
What is prostate cancer?
Like cells in nearly any other part of the body, cells in the prostate gland can become cancerous if they begin to grow out of control. You may be surprised to learn that many older men actually have at least some cancer cells in their prostate glands. However, these (typically slow-growing) cells often don’t cause enough symptoms to raise alarms when the cancer is still early. So while you may have heard that prostate cancer is very treatable (and often is when diagnosed early), it can still be deadly if you assume you can detect it from symptoms alone. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), prostate cancer is still one of the leading causes of cancer death among men of all races.
Since symptoms can be difficult to detect when prostate cancer is in its earliest stages, it's important to understand your risk factors. By discussing your risk of prostate cancer with a doctor, they can help you decide when and how often you should be screened. While researchers don't know the exact cause of prostate cancer, studies have linked some risk factors to the disease, including:
- Age. Men ages 50 and older have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
- Family history. Men who have a relative with prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease. Men with a strong family history of other cancers are also at increased risk for prostate cancer.
- Race. African American men have the highest risk of prostate cancer; the disease tends to start at younger ages and grows faster. White men have the next highest risk, followed by Hispanic and Native American men. Asian American men have the lowest rates of prostate cancer.
- Lifestyle. There is some evidence that men who don't exercise have higher prostate-specific antigen levels than those who exercise regularly. The risk of prostate cancer may also be higher for men who eat high-fat diets.
While no one can fully eliminate their cancer risk, there are still some things you can do to protect yourself from developing advanced prostate cancer:
- Assess your risk level and screening options with a doctor. If you are 50 or older — especially if you are African American or have had a father, brother or son with prostate cancer — it's time to consider getting screened. By discussing your risk factors with a doctor, they can help you determine if it's time to be tested and which screening is right for you. Learn more about screening options at El Camino Health.
- Understand the warning signs. In its earliest stages, prostate cancer typically doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms. However, talk to your doctor if you notice changes in urination (weak flow, more frequency/urgency, etc.) or experience pain with ejaculation. While these symptoms are likely not caused by cancer, it is still important to get them checked by a doctor.
- Make meaningful lifestyle changes. Your risk of prostate cancer may be reduced with healthy lifestyle changes. Most importantly, make sure to eat a healthy diet filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. Learn more about healthy eating for cancer prevention.
If your doctor suspects cancer, they may recommend a prostate biopsy (the removal of tissue samples to see if they contain abnormal cells). Using technology like Artemis™ 3D Imaging and Navigation, your doctor can get a precise look at your cancer in order to determine how quickly it is growing. Often, prostate cancer grows very slowly. In these instances, your doctor may recommend active surveillance — meaning you'll simply have more frequent screening exams and checkups. If the cancer is more aggressive, your doctor may recommend radiation therapy or surgery. However, even if you require surgery, take heart — the board-certified urologists at El Camino Health are experts in all aspects of the treatment of prostate cancer. Learn more about our leading-edge technology and treatment options, including robotic-assisted surgery, for higher quality care.
This article first appeared in the September 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.