About Prostate Cancer
When cells in our body begin to grow in an uncontrolled manner we call it cancer. Normal cells grow and divide in a well regulated and controlled manner. Cancer cells do not, they run riot and grow in a wildly unregulated and ungoverned fashion and eventually crowd out normal cells. While there are many kinds of cancer, ungoverned growth is their common trait.
Cancers in different body parts can behave in very different manners, e.g., breast cancer and bone marrow cancer are very different diseases with differing rates of growth and responding differently to the various treatment options. People with cancer require treatment directed at their specific form of cancer.
Cancer cells can separate from a tumor and make their way to other parts of the body via the blood or lymph systems. These loose cells can attach themselves in new locales and begin to form new tumors, this process is called metastasis, and cancer spread in this manner is called metastatic cancer.
Even when cancer has spread to a new place in the body, it is still named after the part of the body where it started. For example, if prostate cancer spreads to the bones, it is still called prostate cancer. If breast cancer spreads to the lungs, it is still breast cancer. When cancer comes back in a person who appeared to be free of the disease after treatment, it is called a recurrence.
What is Prostate Cancer?
The prostate is a gland found only in men. In the diagram shown here, the prostate is just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It is about the size of a walnut. The urethra (the urine conduit) runs through the prostate. The prostate contains cells that make some of the fluid (semen) that protects and nourishes the sperm.
The prostate begins to develop before birth and keeps on growing until a man reaches adulthood. Male hormones (called androgens) cause this growth. If male hormone levels are low, the prostate gland will not grow to full size. In older men, though, the part of the prostate around the urethra may keep on growing. This causes BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia) which can result in problems with urinating. But BPH is not cancer.
Although there are several cell types in the prostate, nearly all prostate cancers start in the gland cells. This kind of cancer is known as adenocarcinoma. The rest of this information refers only to prostate adenocarcinoma.
Most of the time, prostate cancer grows slowly. Autopsy studies show that many older men (and even younger men) who died of other diseases also had prostate cancer that never caused a problem during their lives. These studies showed that 7 or 8 out of 10 men had prostate cancer by age 80. But neither they nor their doctors even knew they had it.
Pre-Cancerous Changes of the Prostate
Some doctors believe that prostate cancer begins with very small changes in the size and shape of the prostate gland cells. These changes are known as prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN). Almost half of all men have PIN by the time they reach 50. In PIN, there are changes in how the prostate gland cells look under the microscope, but the cells are basically still in place -- they don't look like they've gone into other parts of the prostate (like cancer cells would). These changes can be either low-grade (almost normal) or high-grade (abnormal).
If you have had a prostate biopsy that showed high-grade PIN, there is a greater chance that there are cancer cells in your prostate. For this reason, you will be watched carefully and may need another biopsy.