The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in a man's reproductive system. It is located below the bladder in front of the rectum (see graphic below). It surrounds the upper part of the urethra, which is the tube that empties urine from the bladder. If the prostate grows too large, the flow of urine may slow or stop.
Prostate cancer is a disease in which malignant cells are found in the prostate. The cause of prostate cancer is not well understood. Doctors cannot explain why one man gets prostate cancer and another does not.
Although several other cell types are found in the prostate, more than 99 percent of prostate cancers develop from the glandular cells. The medical term for a cancer that starts in glandular cells is adenocarcinoma. Because other types of prostate cancer are so rare, if you have prostate cancer, it is most likely adenocarcinoma.
Treatment for Prostate Cancer
Different types of treatment are available for prostate cancer. Some treatments are standard (currently used) and some are being tested in clinical trials.
Choosing the most appropriate cancer treatment involves the patient, family and health care team. For a detailed description of treatment options, ask your nurse for a copy of Multidisciplinary Prostate Cancer Clinic: A Guide to Treatment Options.
Types of Standard Treatment
Because prostate cancer often grows very slowly, some men – especially those who are older or have other serious health problems – may never need treatment. Instead, their doctors may recommend active surveillance, an approach commonly known as "watchful waiting.” This involves closely monitoring the cancer without active treatment such as surgery or radiation treatment.
Surgery to remove the prostate is called prostatectomy. If surgery is your best treatment option, your doctor will discuss the procedure with you.
Radiation treatment uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. External beam radiation is a common type of therapy for prostate cancer.
Medical treatments include hormone therapy, chemotherapy and new drugs that disrupt a particular function within the cancer cell.
Clinical trials are people-based studies – as opposed to animal or lab studies – of new drugs or procedures. Doctors use clinical trials to learn whether a new treatment is safe and effective in patients. Many of the new drugs being studied are intended to disrupt a particular chemical pathway or function within the cancer cell. Clinical trials exploring the effectiveness of new prostate cancer drugs are usually available.