Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among American men
Medically Reviewed by Robert Jasmer, MD
What Is Prostate Cancer?
Cancer is a disease characterized by the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells, which may invade healthy cells in the body.
As its name suggests, prostate cancer is one that starts in the prostate, a walnut-sized gland in men that's located below the bladder and in front of the rectum.
The prostate surrounds the urethra and produces prostate fluid, which is part of semen.
Prostate cancer often progress very slowly, though in some cases it can be quite aggressive.
In its early stages, it usually doesn't cause any symptoms.
However, there are numerous possible symptoms in the later stages of the disease, including urination issues, painful ejaculation, and constant pain in the back, hips, or pelvis.
Prevalence and Demographics
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men, affecting one in seven men (about 14 percent), according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Though only one in 38 men will die from the disease, it's second only to lung cancer in terms of cancer deaths among men.
The ACS further estimates that there will be some 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer and about 27,540 prostate cancer deaths in the United States in 2015.
Prostate cancer doesn't affect all races and ethnicity equally.
In 2011, African-American men had the highest prevalence rates of prostate cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
White men had the second highest prevalence rates of prostate cancer in 2011, followed by Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander, and finally, American Indian and Alaska Native men.
According to the CDC, African-American men were also the most likely to die from prostate cancer, followed by white, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native, and Asian and Pacific Islander.
How Prostate Cancer Develops
Various genes oversee the life and death of cells.
For instance, oncogenes help direct the growth and division of cells, while tumor suppressor genes play a key role in keeping cell division in check and promoting apoptosis, or programmed cell death.
Changes or mutations in the DNA of prostate cells may alter the expression or behavior of these and other genes, causing the cells to stay alive longer than they should, and experience accelerated growth and division.
These abnormal cells accumulate to form a tumor, which can invade nearby tissue. The cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body, or metastasize, causing cancer in other tissues.
Though there are several types of cells in the prostate, almost all prostate cancers develop from gland cells, which produce the prostate fluid.
It's unknown what, exactly, causes the DNA mutations in cells that can lead to prostate cancer.
However, scientists have identified risk factors for the disease.
Aside from race (described above), there are numerous other risk factors for prostate cancer, most notably age and family history.
A man's risk of prostate cancer increases with age. The average age of prostate cancer diagnosis in the United State is 69, and more than 65 percent of all prostate cancer diagnoses occur in men over age 65, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF).
Prostate cancer appears to run in families, suggesting a hereditary basis for some cancer development. Men are two to three times more likely to develop prostate cancer if they have fathers, brothers, or sons who have prostate cancer, according to the CDC.
Additionally, men who have mutations in eight specific genes — including BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are known to increase women's risk of breast and ovarian cancers — have an increased risk of advanced (aggressive) familial pancreatic cancer, according to a 2014 report in the British Journal of Cancer.
Other probable risk factors include obesity and a diet high in saturated fat.
What I need to know about Prostate Problems; National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC).
How many men get prostate cancer?; American Cancer Society.
Prostate Cancer Rates by Race and Ethnicity; CDC.
What is prostate cancer?; American Cancer Society.
Do we know what causes prostate cancer?; American Cancer Society.
Leongamornlert et al. (2014). "Frequent germline deleterious mutations in DNA repair genes in familial prostate cancer cases are associated with advanced disease." British Journal of Cancer.
Prostate Cancer Risk Factors; Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer Development; National Cancer Institute.