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Causes and Treatment of Prostate Cancer



Causes and Treatment of Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is a malignant tumor in the prostate gland, which is a part of the male reproductive system. Generally, this cancer affects men above 45. Read on for more information about the causes and treatment of this cancer.Cancer is one of the most dreaded diseases in the world. It is caused by the abnormal multiplication of cells, forming tumors. These tumors can be of two types - benign or malignant. Benign tumors do not affect the neighboring tissues and organs, whereas malignant ones spread to other body parts. There are some types of cancer, where tumor is not formed. One such instance is leukemia - blood cancer.

There are more than hundred types of cancer. Prostate cancer is one of the most commonly seen types of cancer. It affects the prostate gland, a walnut-shaped male reproductive gland, found at the base of the urethra, covering the urethral opening. This gland produces a whitish fluid, which carries sperms. It also controls the flow of urine in males.

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer detected in American men, barring skin cancer. This is also the second major contributor to the rising number of cancer deaths in America (lung cancer being the first one). Let us find out the causes, symptoms and treatment of this cancer.

Causes of Prostate Cancer

A particular reason cannot be attributed to the occurrence of prostate cancer. There are factors, which increase the chances of development of this disease. These include age, genetics, diet, lifestyle, other medications, geography, ethnic origin, etc.

Age: As far as prostate cancer is concerned, age is the most crucial factor. This cancer is commonly detected in men above 45. The chances of developing prostate cancer increase with age. Many studies show that up to 60% of men over 80 are affected by this cancer. Though it is rare, prostate cancer is also detected in younger men.

Genetics: Genetics play an important role in the occurrence of prostate cancer. A family history of prostate cancer, makes a man vulnerable to this disease. Till now, no specific gene has been identified as the causing agent of this cancer. However, mutation of two genes ( BRCA1 and BRCA2), which are responsible for ovarian cancer and breast cancer, are said to be involved in the growth of prostate cancer as well.

Diet: It is believed that a diet, rich in animal fats can trigger the onset of prostate cancer. Excessive intake of red meat, dairy products and foods containing bad cholesterol, may also be a causal factor. Diet, containing vegetables and fruits is believed to prevent prostate cancer.

Lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle, that lacks exercise can lead to obesity, which in turn increases the risk of contracting this cancer. Men with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 32.5 or more, are more likely to die of prostate cancer.

Medications: Medical conditions and medications can affect the development of prostate cancer in two ways. Some medications/medical procedures increases the risk of this cancer, while some reduces the chances of getting affected. Using medicines to lower cholesterol level or anti-inflammatory drugs, may help to cut the risk of developing prostate cancer. The high level of testosterone (male hormone) in blood and contraction of sexually transmitted diseases have also been identified as contributory factors. Though there is no evidence to prove the link between prostatitis (inflammation of prostate gland) and prostate cancer, it is assumed that this disease increases the chances of occurrence of prostate cancer.

Geography: Some regions of the world witness a higher incidence of this disease, compared to the rest of the world. People in North America, Caribbean Islands, Australia and Northwestern Europe are more prone to prostate cancer than those in Central America, South America, Asia and Africa. The reason behind this may be lifestyle and diet of the people in these regions. It is also noted that native Americans, are more at risk of prostate cancer, than the Asians living in America.

Ethnic Origin: It is also seen that members of a particular race are more susceptible to prostate cancer, as compared to others. For example, incidence of this cancer is higher in Black men that the White men. It is also noticed that this cancer develops at a comparatively younger age in African Americans. Likewise, American men are more vulnerable to this disease than the Japanese.

These are some of the factors contributing to the risk of developing prostate cancer. Other than those mentioned above, it is also noticed that over-exposure to cadmium (welders, rubber workers, battery manufacturers) is also likely to cause this cancer. Researches show that regular ejaculation reduces the risk. Contrary to earlier belief, it is now proved that vasectomy does not contribute to the occurrence of prostate cancer.

Prostate Cancer - Symptoms and Treatment

Prostate cancer is not characterized by any symptoms in its early stages. It may be detected accidentally, while undergoing a Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or a digital rectal examination. The symptoms are almost similar for both prostate cancer and benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlargement of the prostate gland in elderly men). In both cases, the prostate gland gets enlarged, causing pressure on the urethra, thereby causing difficulties in urination. The symptoms include, frequent urination, especially at night; painful urination; blood and semen in urine; no steady flow of urine, etc. This cancer may also cause difficulties in erection and ejaculation.

Once a person is diagnosed with prostate cancer, various factors are taken into consideration, before the treatment. They are:
The stage of cancer - whether it has spread or not?
The age and the state of health of the patient.
Whether the cancer is a recurrent one?
Generally, the treatment includes observation or watchful waiting, surgery, hormone therapy and radiation therapy.

Watchful waiting: Watchful waiting involves active surveillance of the growth of cancer without administering any other treatment. This method is employed in aged people, who cannot be treated with the other methods, due to the risks involved or those who are in the early stages of this cancer.

Surgery: This is another method of treatment, where the prostate gland is removed, either in the early stage itself or when the gland stops responding to other treatments. The removal of prostate gland through surgery is called prostatectomy. The surgery is termed as radical retropubic prostatectomy, when the prostate gland is removed through an abdominal incision. It is radical perineal prostatectomy, when the gland is removed through an incision made through the perineum (skin between scrotum and anus).

Robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy (RALP), is a surgery used to remove the prostate gland, but, aided by modern technology. Unlike other forms of prostatectomy, this method does not make any large incisions. Nowadays, RALP is becoming more popular among both doctors and patients. Sometimes, prostatectomy may cause nerve damage and complications may arise if done after radiation therapy. The most common side effects of surgery are impotence and loss of urinary control. Some patients also experience difficulties in erection and ejaculation.

Another type of surgical procedure is transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP), where a small portion of the growth is removed to relieve the symptoms. Symptoms like difficulty in urination are caused due to the pressing of urethra by the overgrown prostate gland. This procedure involves removal of that portion of the gland, which blocks the urethra, by inserting a small instrument called resectoscope through the penis.

Cryosurgery is also a recent development, where the prostate gland is freezed (-186 °C), using metal rods inserted through the perineum into the prostate gland. The water in the cells surrounding the rods gets freezed, which results in its death. This method is considered to be more successful than the other types of treatments. It creates lesser problems during surgery and the side effects are also comparatively lesser. Treatment through surgery includes orchiectomy, where the testicles are removed for reducing the amount of testosterone, thereby controlling the growth of cancer.

Hormone Therapy: This treatment involves the male hormone called testosterone. The hormone is responsible for the growth of cancer cells in the prostate gland and hormone therapy tries to curtail the production of testosterone and curbs the growth of cancer cells. Blocking testosterone sometimes helps to shrink the cells and diminish the size of the malignant portion.

Some drugs used in this method decrease the production of testosterone. Others reduce the body's ability to use this hormone. Doctors may even suggest this method of treatment, along with surgery or radiation therapy. Hormone therapy also causes side-effects like, enlargement of breasts, loss of libido, liver damage, skin problems, etc. One of the drawbacks is that the cells become resistant to this treatment after one or two years, which results in the recurrent growth of cancer cells.

Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill the cancer cells. External radiation therapy directs the radiation emitted by machines towards the cancer cells, whereas internal radiation therapy plants minute radioactive substances in the form of seeds or needles, near or inside the cancer growth. These rays destroy the DNA in the cancer cells. Unlike the normal cells, cancer cells cannot repair this damage, which causes the death of the latter. This treatment may cause impotence, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, involuntary urination, etc.

Other types of treatments include, High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) and biologic therapy. In HIFU, ultrasound waves are focused on the cancer cells to destroy them. Biologic therapy tries to boost the immune system and uses the substances produced in the body to revitalize the body's natural defense mechanism and to fight the cancer growth.

It is believed that a diet rich in fish, fruits and vegetables reduces the chances of prostate cancer. Intake of fruits and vegetables like watermelon, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. is also helpful in preventing this cancer. Enlargement of the prostate gland is common in men above 45, and it does not mean that the growth is cancerous. So plan a healthy diet, start exercising, and always consult a doctor at the earliest, if you experience any of the above said symptoms.