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Conditions InDepth: Prostate Cancer

Cancer is a disease in which cells grow in an abnormal way. Normally, the cells divide in a controlled manner. If cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue called a tumor forms.

A tumor can be benign or malignant. A benign tumor is not cancer and will not spread to other parts of the body. A malignant tumor is cancer. Cancer cells invade and damage tissue around them. They can also enter the lymph and blood streams, spreading to other parts of the body. Prostate cancer is the development of malignant cells in the prostate gland.

Cancer Cell Growth
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Normal Anatomy and the Development of Prostate Cancer

The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. It is located in the pelvic region, under the bladder and adjacent to the rectum. The walnut-sized gland surrounds the urethra, the tube that carries urine outside the body from the bladder. It makes and stores seminal fluid, which is needed to keep sperm healthy. During ejaculation, the prostate releases the seminal fluid into the urethra where it combines with sperm to make semen.

Male Reproductive Organs
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Cell division and cell death are a normal process in the body to replace old or damaged cells. Male hormones (androgens) are needed for the prostate to function normally and help it remain its normal size. As men age the prostate changes and grows, and androgen levels decrease. These influences may cause changes in the cells that can lead to prostate cancer. Tumors that grow in the prostate can cause urinary symptoms, such as urgency, frequency, and a weak stream. If it grows beyond the prostate, the cancer can penetrate nearby structures, such as the rectum or bladder, and interfere with their function as well. It can also spread to lymph nodes or blood vessels, which can carry cancer cells to other parts of the body. The most common sites for prostate cancer to spread are the lymph nodes in other parts of the body and the bones.

Types of Prostate Cancer

There are different types of prostate cancer based on the specific types of cells and where the cancer starts. Types of prostate cancer include:

  • Adenocarcinoma—Arise from cells that make seminal fluid inside the prostate. This type makes up nearly all prostate cancers.
  • Sarcoma—Rare type that starts in the connective tissue that support the prostate.
  • Neuroendocrine—Rare type that starts in the endocrine cells that are associated with hormones.
  • Transitional cell—Rare type that starts in the tissue that lines the inside of the prostate gland.
Prostate Cancer
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Revision Information

  • General information about prostate cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/prostate/patient/prostate-treatment-pdq. Updated July 7, 2016. Accessed April 12, 2017.

  • Prostate cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114483/Prostate-cancer. Updated February 18, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2017.

  • Prostate cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/genitourinary-disorders/genitourinary-cancer/prostate-cancer. Updated November 2013. Accessed April 12, 2017.

  • What is prostate cancer? American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/about/what-is-prostate-cancer.html. Updated March 11, 2016. Accessed April 12, 2017.

  • What is prostate cancer? Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/prostate-cancer. Accessed April 12, 2017.