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7 Things to Know About Prostate Cancer

Originally published August 25, 2020

Last updated November 23, 2022

Reading Time: 4 minutes

From warning signs of prostate cancer to how your diet influences your risk, find out some fast facts about this common cancer.

If you’re a man approaching middle age or older, chances are you’re aware you should be screened for prostate cancer. But how much do you know about prostate cancer? Here are some important facts to consider.

1. Prostate cancer is more common than you might realize.

Located under the bladder and behind the rectum, the prostate is a walnut-sized male reproductive gland that makes fluid for semen. In some men, cancer cells can begin to form in the prostate and grow out of control.

In the United States, 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime, making it the second most common cancer in men in the country, behind skin cancer.

2. Prostate cancer is rarely fatal.

While it’s true that prostate cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death in men, most men with prostate cancer do not die from it. In fact, prostate cancer has a five-year survival rate of 98%.

3. Early prostate cancer doesn’t have symptoms.

It can be tricky to identify prostate cancer in its early stages without a screening. That’s because most early prostate cancers are not symptomatic, according to Andrew Hung, MD, a urologist at Keck Medicine of USC and assistant professor of urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

“Early prostate cancer is usually caught by an abnormal blood test — an elevated prostate-specific antigen test, or PSA test,” says Hung.

“Men often confuse symptoms of an enlarged prostate with warning signs of prostate cancer, although they are typically independent of each other,” Hung explains. Symptoms of an enlarged prostate include problems urinating, like the need to go more frequently, difficulty emptying the bladder or a slow or weak stream.

Symptoms of advanced prostate cancer might include difficulty with urination, fatigue or persistent pain in the back, hips or pelvis.

4. It’s a good idea to ask your doctor when you should start getting screened for prostate cancer.

There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to when men should begin prostate cancer screening. The American Cancer Society recommends that average-risk men discuss prostate cancer screening at age 50, while the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that some men get screened between the ages of 55 and 69.

Some prostate cancer experts, like Hung, think men should consider screening even earlier.

“I recommend that men between the ages of 45 to 49 have a baseline PSA test,” he says. “Depending on the baseline PSA, they should have a PSA test every one to two years until the age of 70.”

Since each man has different risk factors, you and your doctor should discuss your individual situation.

“The decision to do a PSA test should be a shared decision between the patient and physician,” Hung says.

5. An abnormal PSA test doesn’t necessarily indicate prostate cancer.

Although a PSA test is used to screen for prostate cancer, “PSA is not specific to prostate cancer,” Hung explains.

Abnormalities in PSA test results could actually be an indicator of a noncancerous condition such as an enlarged prostate, also called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

6. A robot can help treat prostate cancer.

How is prostate cancer treated? A variety of ways. Some prostate cancer is very slow-growing and may never cause problems, so doctors simply keep an eye on it with a “watch and wait” approach. If it does need to be treated, prostate cancer surgery options are available, and some surgeons may even use robots to perform your surgery.

“The most common prostate cancer treatment involves surgically removing the prostate in what’s called a robotic prostatectomy,” Hung says.

In robotic prostatectomy, the surgeon controls precise robotic arms that hold the tools. Small incisions are made, and a tiny camera is inserted during the procedure.

Other treatments for prostate cancer include radiation therapy, cryotherapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy.

7. The role of diet in prostate cancer is unclear.

Most prostate cancer risks are things you can’t change: Men over 50, African American men and men with a family history are more at risk for prostate cancer. And although it’s always a good idea to eat a healthy diet, exercise and not smoke, it’s uncertain whether diet plays a specific role in prostate cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, some research has shown that a diet high in calcium, either from dairy products or from calcium supplements, may increase the risk of prostate cancer. However, most studies to date have found that average calcium intake isn’t associated with an increased risk.


Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a freelance writer covering health, culture, travel and parenting.