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According to the National Cancer Institute, prostate cancer is the second-most common type of cancer among men in this country, surpassed only by skin cancer.

Prostate cancer is a disease in which cancer develops in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system. Cells of the prostate mutate and begin to multiply out of control.

The prostate sits just below the bladder, about halfway between the rectum and the base of the penis. A normal prostate gland has a firm muscular consistency and is about the size of a walnut. The prostate produces most of the fluid that makes up semen.

Prostate cancer usually grows slowly and rarely causes symptoms until it progresses to an advanced stage. Your health care provider can use screening tools to detect prostate cancer and most cases are treatable if detected early.

What are the risk factors for prostate cancer?

• Age: This disease is rare in men younger than 45. The chance of getting prostate cancer increases sharply as a man gets older. In the United States, most men with prostate cancer are older than 65.

• Family history: If a man had a father or brother with prostate cancer, his risk is higher.

• Race: Prostate cancer is more common in African-American men than in white and Hispanic men. It is less common in Asian and American Indian men.

• Diet: Some studies suggest that men who eat a diet high in animal fat or meat may be at increased risk for prostate cancer.

What are the symptoms?

Most men don't know they have prostate cancer until it is found during a regular medical exam. Men most often notice problems with urinating. But these same symptoms also can be caused by an enlarged prostate, which is very common among older men.

See your health care provider if you:

• Feel like your bladder is not emptying when you urinate.

• Have an increased need to get up at night to urinate.

• Experience pain or burning when you urinate or have blood in your urine.

• Have a deep pain in your lower back, belly, hip or pelvis.

How is prostate cancer diagnosed?

The most common way to check for prostate cancer is to have a digital rectal exam. Your health care provider feels the size of your prostate and if there are any hard or lumpy areas. Another test is called the prostate-specific antigen blood test. A higher level of PSA may mean that you have an inflammation, enlargement, or infection of the prostate, but it could indicate the presence of cancer.

If your PSA is high, or if your health care provider finds anything in the rectal exam, he or she may sample some prostate tissue to send to the lab to figure out the cause.

What is the recommended screening schedule?

The American Cancer Society suggests that both the prostate-specific antigen blood test and a digital rectal exam should be offered annually to men age 50 and older. Men who have risk factors for prostate cancer should begin testing at age 45.

Talk with your health care provider about what screening tests you should have.

How is prostate cancer treated?

The treatment that is right for you depends on the stage of the cancer, the grade of the tumor, your symptoms and your general health. You and your health care provider may decide to treat your cancer with surgery, radiation, hormone therapy or a combination.

You may choose "watchful waiting" if the risks and possible side effects of treatment outweigh the possible benefits. Your provider may offer this choice if you are older or have other serious health problems. He or she also may suggest watchful waiting if you are diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer that seems to be slowly growing.

Talk with your health care provider about testing and if necessary, about choosing the treatment that is best for you.

Anne Hoppie is a registered nurse at St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center. Questions for our clinicians? Please send them to info@saintpatrick.org.

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