Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers to affect men: it is estimated that 1 in 5 men will develop the disease sometime during their lifetime, and three-quarters of all cases are in men aged 65 years or older.
While prostate cancer can grow quickly and spread, more often it grows slowly and may remain within the prostate gland for years (localised cancer). In its early stages, the disease has no symptoms. However, as the cancer develops, it can invade and damage the surrounding tissues, or spread to other areas of the body (metastasis).
Various tests may be used to screen for prostate cancer including the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which measures the level of this protein in the blood. An elevated PSA level can indicate the presence of prostate cancer. A PSA test is often used in combination with a digital rectal examination.
If prostate cancer is diagnosed, the stage of the disease tells the doctor how far the cancer has spread and helps him/her decide the best treatment option.
Tumours are usually staged using the TNM system, which considers:
|The size of the primary tumour
|Whether any lymph nodes have been affected
|Whether the tumour has spread beyond the prostate gland (metastasised)
In the early years of the disease, the growth of prostate cancer is dependent on testosterone. The goal of treatments is to reduce the level of testosterone circulating in the body. A decrease in testosterone levels can lead to the death of cancer cells and postpone by several years the progression of the disease.
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