To grasp an understanding of what is prostate cancer you have to know all about the prostate as well as the structures that are close to it in the body.
- The prostate is a gland that is only found in males. It is located below the urinary bladder. It sits in front of the man’s rectum. Its size changes as the male ages. It will grow rapidly during puberty being fueled by a rise in the production of male hormones (androgens) like testosterone and DHT (dihydrotestosterone).
- It stays the same size or will grow slowly in adults, depending on the male hormones being present. In most younger men, it’s about the same size as a walnut, but in older men it can be much larger.
- The job of the prostate is to make a percentage of the fluid protecting and nourishing the sperm cells in a man’s semen, making them more liquid. Directly behind the prostate are some glands that are known as ‘seminal vesicles’, and they produce the bulk of the fluids for the semen. The urethra is a tube that carries semen and urine from the body via the penis, and this goes directly through the center of a man’s prostate.
BPH (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia)
The inner parts of the prostate that are around the urethra usually keep growing as a man ages. This can lead to a condition known as ‘benign prostatic hyperplasia’, or BPH. With BPH, prostate tissue presses on the urethra and leads to some problems passing urine.
BPH is not – repeat – NOT cancer. It does not develop into cancer. However, it can become a serious problem in some men. Should it require treatment, there are medicines that can shrink its size and help to relax the muscles involved which helps with the flow of urine. If the medications don’t work, then there are some types of surgery that can help, like TURP (transurethral resection of the prostate).
Now that you have found out what is prostate cancer, know this fact that there are several types of cells associated with the prostate. However, most all cancer of the prostate glands develop from gland cells. These are the cells that produce the prostate fluid that gets added to the semen. There is a medical term given to cancer that begins in the gland cells and it is – ‘adenocarcinoma’.
There are some other types of cancer that may also begin within the prostate gland like –
- Neuroendocrine Tumors
- Small Cell Carcinomas
- Transitional Cell Carcinomas
The thing about these types of cancer is that they’re so rare, and if you have prostate cancer it usually has to be adenocarcinoma. We will spend the rest of this article discussing prostate adenocarcinoma.
There are prostate cancers that can spread and grow quickly. However, the majority of them grow quite slowly. Autopsy studies reveal that lots of older men and some of the younger ones who died from other causes also had prostate cancer even though it never affected them while they were alive. In a lot of cases, they didn’t know they had it and neither did their doctors.
Possible Pre-cancerous Prostate Conditions
There is some research that suggests prostate cancer begins in a pre-cancerous state. This is not a fact that is known for sure.
PIN (Prostatic Intraepithelial Neoplasia)
This condition involves changes in the way the cells in the prostate gland look when placed under a microscope. In this condition, the abnormal cells will not appear to be growing in other parts of a man’s prostate (as any cancer cells would). They base their diagnosis on how abnormal the cell patterns look, then they classify them like –
- Low-grade PIN – this is where the prostate cell patterns look to be almost normal.
- High-grade PIN – this is here the cell patterns look a bit more abnormal.
Nearly half of all men will have PIN by age 50. Many of them start developing low-grade PIN when they are young, but it doesn’t mean they will develop prostate cancer. The importance of how low-grade PIN relates to prostate cancer is still an unknown.
If anyone has had a high-grade PIN found in their prostate biopsy, there is around a 20% chance they have cancer in some other area of their prostate. That’s why doctors keep an eye on men who have high-grade PIN and advise them to have repeated biopsies, especially when the original one didn’t involve samples from all areas of the prostate.
PIA (Proliferative Inflammatory Atrophy)
Again, this is something that can show up on a man’s prostate biopsy. With PIA, the cells will appear smaller than usual, and signs of inflammation will be around that area. PIA isn’t cancer. However, researchers believe it can lead to prostate cancer.