What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is a disease in which normal cells in a man’s prostate gland change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. Some prostate cancers grow very slowly and may not cause symptoms for years. Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in men in the United States.
What is the function of the prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located behind the base of the penis, in front of the rectum, and below the bladder. It surrounds the urethra, the tube-like channel that carries urine and semen through the penis. The prostate makes seminal fluid, the liquid in semen that protects, supports, and helps transport sperm.
What do stage and grade mean?
The stage is a way of describing where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. There are four stages for prostate cancer: stages I through IV (one through four). Prostate cancer is also given a grade called a Gleason score, which ranges from 6 to 10. Descriptions and illustrations of these stages are available at www.cancer.net/prostate.
How is prostate cancer treated?
The treatment of prostate cancer depends on the size and location of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread, and the man’s overall health. If prostate cancer is found at an early stage and is growing slowly, the doctor may recommend active surveillance. This means the cancer is closely monitored and active treatment begins only when the cancer shows signs of spreading, causes pain, or blocks the urinary tract. For early-stage prostate cancer, treatment options include surgery to remove the prostate and nearby lymph nodes or radiation therapy. For men with a larger tumor or cancer that is more likely to return, hormone therapy may be given before surgery, or radiation therapy may be given after surgery. Several months of hormone therapy may also be combined with radiation therapy. Hormone therapy is the main treatment option for men with metastatic prostate cancer, but radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be recommended. Prostate cancer that no longer responds to hormone therapy, known as castration-resistant prostate cancer, may be treated with chemotherapy, vaccine therapy, or other newer treatment options. When making treatment decisions, men may also consider a clinical trial; talk with your doctor about all treatment options. The side effects of prostate cancer treatment, including incontinence and sexual problems, can often be prevented or managed with the help of your health care team. This is called palliative care and is an important part of the overall treatment plan.
How can I cope with prostate cancer?
Absorbing the news of a cancer diagnosis and communicating with your health care team are key parts of the coping process. Seeking support, organizing your health information, making sure all of your questions are answered, and participating in the decision-making process are other steps. Talk with your health care team about any concerns. Understanding your emotions and those of people close to you can be helpful in managing the diagnosis, treatment, and healing process.
Questions to ask the doctor
Regular communication is important in making informed decisions about your health
care. Consider asking the following questions of your health care team:
- What type of prostate cancer do I have?
- Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?
- What is the stage and Gleason score of the prostate cancer? What does this mean?
- Would you explain my treatment options?
- What clinical trials are open to me? Where are they located, and how do I find out more about them?
- What treatment plan do you recommend? Why?
- What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the cancer, help me feel better, or both?
- Who will be part of my treatment team, and what does each member do?
- How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities?
- Will this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?
- Will this treatment affect my ability to have children?
- What other long-term side effects may be associated with my cancer treatment?
- If I’m worried about managing the costs related to my cancer care, who can help me with these concerns?
- Where can I find emotional support for me and my family?
- Whom should I call for questions or problems?
- Is there anything else I should be asking?
Additional questions to ask the doctor can be found at www.cancer.net/prostate.