Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States. A man has a 1 in 9 chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. The risk of prostate cancer increases with age, and about 80% of men who reach the age of 80 are diagnosed with it. Although prostate cancer in men younger than 40 is rare, it does still occur.
A significant step in your cancer treatment is to understand what type of cancer you have. That, along with other factors we’ll mention below, are what determines the treatment your cancer doctor recommends.
Different Types of Prostate Cancer
The prostate is a small gland surrounding the neck of the bladder of males. It is thought that the hormone androgen causes cancer cells to begin growing in the prostate when a small cell variant occurs. This type of prostate cancer is referred to as adenocarcinoma.
You likely know of someone who has been treated for cancer with radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery – or perhaps all three. You may feel apprehensive and worry about the cancer treatment you’ll receive, but it’s important to know that your cancer treatment may differ greatly from someone else who has cancer.
Your cancer doctor takes other factors into consideration before recommending a course of treatment. Besides the type of cancer you have and the presence (or lack of) certain biomarkers, other significant factors include:
- Your age
- Your general health
- Stage of cancer
- Gleason score
In general, the younger you are when cancer is diagnosed, the more aggressive the cancer, which requires an aggressive cancer treatment. When you are diagnosed with cancer later in life, the cancer is slower-growing and there is often time to examine various treatment options.
Your current state of health (for example, physical fitness or the presence of other medical conditions) is important in determining how aggressively your cancer can be treated and what treatments can be used. You should also discuss any past health issues with your oncologist so that he or she can determine if it’s a factor in your cancer treatment.
Staging your cancer is also a very important aspect of determining what treatment you’ll receive. In order to “stage” your prostate cancer, the oncologist will determine the size of the tumor as well as if the cancer cells have spread to anywhere else in your body. Prostate cancer can spread to lymph nodes, bones, liver, and lungs.
Stage I Early stage, slow-growing cancer with low PSA levels, confined to the prostate.
Stage II Cancer with low to medium PSA levels, confined to the prostate.
Stage III Cancer with high PSA levels, growth beyond the outer layer of the prostate, or considered high grade (growing and spreading quickly).
Stage IV Cancer cells have spread beyond the prostate to the lymph nodes, bones, or other parts of the body (also known as metastatic).
If a biopsy of the prostate shows adenocarcinoma, then it also receive a Gleason Score, which predicts the aggressiveness of the cancer. The lowest Gleason Score is a 6. A score of 7 or less means a tumor of average aggressive potential, whereas a score of 8 – 10 is seen with aggressive tumors.
Prostate Cancer and Treatment
Treatment for prostate cancer may include any of the following:
- Chemotherapy — Anti-cancer drugs taken intravenously or by mouth. May be considered if the cancer has spread outside of the prostate.
- Hormonal therapy — Deprives the cancer cells of the hormones needed for their growth.
- Radiation — Places a radioactive seed in the prostate or aims an external beam at the prostate. Radium therapy also helps relieve symptoms if the cancer has spread to the bones.
- Surgery — Removes the prostate. Appropriate if the cancer is localized within the prostate.
Your Treatment Team
A medical oncologist, with the assistance of nurses and staff, will treat your cancer in addition to any cancer-related conditions. The medical oncologist has the role of treating your cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, if appropriate.
The oncologist also works with other types of healthcare professionals to treat your cancer:
This specialist in bladder, urethra, ureters, kidneys, and adrenal glands can help with problems in those areas during cancer treatment. A urologist can also perform the medical procedures to biopsy the prostate or remove the prostate gland.
Treats cancer using radiation therapy.
Your oncologist consults extensively with the other doctors to determine what type of treatment will result in the best outcome for you. Although you might receive treatment from any of the doctors on your cancer team, your oncologist is the “quarterback” who coordinates the treatment.
You can read more about your cancer doctor’s background and experience on the About page.