The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located below the bladder. This gland is found only in men; hence, the prostate cancer occurs only in biological men and not women. The gland makes fluid that is part of semen.
According to American Cancer Society, about 1 in 9 males will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. The cancer develops mostly in older men. Approximately, 60% of prostate cancer occurs in men above 65. The average age of diagnosis is 66. It is the second leading cause of death in American men after lung cancer.
Causes of Prostate Cancer
Changes in the DNA of a prostate cell leads to prostate cancer. Our genes are responsible for how the cells functions.
Some gene mutations are carried from one generation to the other. It is estimated that inherited genes are responsible for 5 to 10% of prostate cancer.
Some mutations are not hereditary and are not passed to offsprings. Mutations occurs only in the cells that came from the originally mutated cells. These are acquired mutations. Most of the prostate cancer gets developed during a man’s life.
Most gene mutations related to prostate cancer seem to develop during a man’s life rather than having been inherited. Some studies have found inflammation in the prostate gland may lead to prostate cancer as inflammation could damage the DNA. Additionally, exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals can cause DNA mutations. Some have attributed to higher levels of androgens as a contributing factor to prostate cancer.
Types of Prostate Cancer
There are different types of prostate cancer. Most prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas. Other types of prostate cancer include Sarcomas, small cell carcinomas, neuroendocrine tumors and transitional cell carcinomas. An occurrence of these type of prostate cancer is pretty rare.
Signs / Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
Early stage prostate cancer shows no signs or symptoms. However, more advanced prostate cancers can cause symptoms as below:
- Difficulty in urinating or the need to urinate more often
- Blood in urine/semen
- Erectile dysfunction
- Pain in the hips, back, chest or other areas where cancer has spread
Survival rates by stage
As per The National Cancer Institute, below are the survival rates based on the stages of cancer. Please note that the rates below are just estimates.
- Local stage: During this stage, there are no signs that cancer has spread outside the prostate gland. It is estimated that 4 out of 5 prostate cancers are found in this early stage. The relative 5-year survival rate for local stage prostate cancer is nearly 100%. 5-year survival rates are based on men diagnosed and first treated more than 5 years ago.
- Regional stage: During this stage cancer has spread from the prostate to nearby areas. The relative 5-year survival rate for regional stage prostate cancer is nearly 100%.
- Distant stage: During this stage, cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes, bones, or other organs. The relative 5-year survival rate for distant stage prostate cancer is about 29%.
Lasers in Cancer Treatment
Treatment may not be necessary when people are diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer. However, doctors suggest active monitoring. During active monitoring, if test result show that your cancer is progressing, patients can choose treatments such as surgery or radiation bringing with it the risk of long term side effects such as erectile dysfunction or incontinence.
There might be good news on the horizon for early stage prostate cancer patients who do not want to worry that their cancer might some day get severe. Researchers in the UK have announced a new laser therapy treatment that can kill tumor cells without removing or destroying the prostate. Called Vascular-Targeted Photodynamic therapy (VTP), the new treatment is given by injecting a light-sensitive drug, called WST11, into the bloodstream of the cancer patient using fiber lasers that are inserted into the prostate gland. The laser then activates the drug to destroy the tumor tissue. It has been reported that this new therapy decreased the duration of side effects, with most cases getting resolved within three months and no side effects after 2 years.
The therapy was trialed on 413 patients with low-risk prostate cancer across 10 European countries. Participants were randomly assigned to either receive the new light-based therapy (VTP therapy) or standard care (active surveillance only). As per the study, 49 percent of the 413 men who received the VTP therapy went into complete remission compared with 13.5 percent in the control group. Secondly, only six percent of patients who received VTP ended up needing a radical therapy compared to 30 percent in the control group. The technology was developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel alongside Steba Biotech.
The treatment is currently under review by the European Medicines Agency. Hence, it will take some time before it is available to the larger population.