What is Prostate Cancer?

Your Prostate

Approximately the size of a walnut, the prostate gland is located under the bladder and in front of the rectum. It forms a donut-like collar around the urethra, the tube through which urine flows. The prostate makes the fluid that helps sperm survive. During sexual activity, sperm pass through the prostate gland, mix with a small amount of prostate and seminal fluids and pass out of the penis during ejaculation.

Understanding Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the tissues of the prostate, usually in the epithelial cells of the glandular tissue. Compared with most other cancers, prostate cancer tends to grow slowly. Cell changes may begin 10, 20 or 30 years before a tumor becomes large enough to be detectable by exam or PSA. However, most of these cancers never pose a problem. By age 50, autopsy studies show that cancerous cells may be present in about half of men. Most American men have cancer in their prostate glands by the age of 80.

The rate of progression varies significantly from one man to the next, and unfortunately, to date, there is no way of distinguishing which will advance and which will not. This is why early detection and careful observation are critical in the treatment of this disease.

Whether it is a slow-growing or more aggressive form of prostate cancer, eventually the cancer cells will grow and divide enough to form a tumor, which can take over the prostate or expand beyond into nearby tissue.


Prostate cancer typically does not cause signs or symptoms in its early stages. As it advances, patients may experience the following:

  • Difficulty urinating
  • Decreased flow of urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain

Similar symptoms are rarely due to prostate cancer. They more often result from an enlarged prostate, called benign prostatic enlargement (BPE), or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is common as men get older, or prostatitis, bacterial or non-bacterial infection or inflammation of the prostate, which can occur at any age.

If you are having any of the symptoms above, see your doctor to determine the cause.

Metastatic Prostate Cancer

When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, secondary tumors may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if prostate cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually prostate cancer cells. The disease is metastatic prostate cancer, not bone cancer.

When prostate cancer spreads beyond the prostate, it becomes more difficult to treat. The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:

  • Through tissue: cancer invades the surrounding normal tissue.
  • Through the lymph system: cancer invades the lymph system and travels through the lymph vessels to other places in the body.
  • Through the blood: cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.