About one in nine men will develop prostate cancer in the course of their lives. However, many cases are progressing so slowly that doctors only recommend active monitoring rather than treatment. Some cases go completely unnoticed. Should you even consider screening? Read on.
How important is early diagnosis and what happens when prostate cancer spreads to the bones?
There are no two cases of prostate cancer that are the same. Some grow slowly while others progress rapidly. Without treatment, slow-growing cancer can spread only slightly over time, but aggressive prostate cancer can overwhelm the prostate, cause unpleasant symptoms, or even metastasize.
Metastatic growth occurs when cancer spreads from one part of the body to another when cancer cells separate from one tumor and travel to a nearby lymph node or blood vessel. From that point, it can attach to another part of the body such as a bone or organ and grow to form a second tumor. Prostate cancer most commonly spreads to the bones and lymph nodes.
The five-year survival rate for men with local prostate cancer that has not spread to other areas is nearly 100%. The five-year survival rate for men with metastatic prostate cancer is about 30%—a steep decline that underscores the importance of detecting prostate cancer before it spreads to the bones and other areas of the body.
How to spot prostate cancer early
There are two types of screening that your doctor may recommend: the first requires blood collection to measure the level of the prostate-specific antigen PSA. Higher levels often indicate the presence of prostate cancer.
The second test is a physical examination in which a doctor puts on gloves, lubricates the finger and inserts it into the rectum to see if the prostate is enlarged. If any of the results indicate the possibility of prostate cancer, your doctor will recommend further tests.
"Early-stage prostate cancer (which is the most common) typically does not have any physical signs or symptoms," said Dr. Salim Cheriyan, a urologist with Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group. "This is why discussing the risks and benefits of screening with your physician is an important part of detecting prostate cancer."
Metastatic prostate cancer symptoms
In the advanced stages, prostate cancer tends to produce the following symptoms which often prompt an immediate trip to one's primary care physician:
- Difficulty urinating
- Difficulty achieving an erection
- Bloody urine or semen
- Pain in the hips, back or chest pain
- Weakness or numbness in the lower extremities
Speak with your Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group primary care physician or urologist to see when they recommend you begin prostate cancer screenings based on your risk factors. If a test comes back positive, they may refer you to a St. Luke's Health oncologist for treatment.
Patients in our network benefit from access to the nationally accredited Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only three NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in Texas, which brings innovative therapies from lab to bedside faster than ever to help stop cancer in its tracks.