Cancer Care Colon and Rectal Surgery Men's Health

What You Need to Know About Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer among men besides skin cancer. This condition begins in the prostate, often resulting from genetic mutations. Symptoms include progressive problems with urination, blood in urine, body pain and erectile dysfunction. There are many options for diagnosing prostate cancer, and its progress or stage at diagnosis determines what treatment options might be best. The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age, so regular screenings if you’re eligible are vitally important. Screening also increases the likelihood of catching prostate cancer in its earlier stages when it is easier to treat.

What is prostate cancer?

The prostate is a small gland in the male reproductive system that produces seminal fluid. The prostate is located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum.

Cancer beginning in the prostate occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow out of control in the prostate tissue, often first detected as an unusual lump in the tissue. The tumors beginning in these organs can spread to lymph nodes, tissues and other organs in the lower abdomen and beyond as the cancer progresses.

Are there different types of prostate cancer?

There are several different types of prostate cancer. The most common is a type called adenocarcinoma of the prostate.

Acinar adenocarcinomas are cancers that develop in the gland cells lining the prostate gland. Most people with prostate cancer have this type. 

Ductal adenocarcinomas start in the ducts (tubes) of the prostate gland. This type of cancer tends to grow and spread more quickly than acinar adenocarcinoma.

There are other non-adenocarcinoma types of prostate cancer.

  • Transitional cell cancer in the prostate starts in cells that line the urethra, a tube carrying urine to the outside of the body. This cancer usually starts in the bladder and spreads into the prostate, but it can also start in the prostate and spread into the bladder entrance and nearby tissues.
  • Squamous cell cancers develop from flat cells that cover the prostate, tending to grow and spread more quickly than adenocarcinoma in the prostate.
  • Small cell prostate cancer is a type of neuroendocrine cancer made up of small round cells. They tend to grow more quickly than other types of prostate cancer.

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

The symptoms of prostate cancer vary depending on the location or type of the tumor and the patient’s overall state of health. In some cases and at early stages, prostate cancer doesn’t cause major symptoms, so it’s important to undergo screening if you’re at higher risk of developing prostate cancer. Symptoms include:

  • Weak or interrupted (“stop-and-go”) flow of urine
  • Sudden urge to urinate
  • Frequent urination (especially at night)
  • Trouble starting the flow of urine
  • Trouble emptying the bladder completely
  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • A pain in the back, hips, or pelvis that doesn’t go away

These symptoms are similar to another non-cancerous condition called benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), an enlargement of the prostate that can occur as a person ages. The prostate may get bigger and block the urethra or bladder, causing trouble urinating or sexual problems. Although it is not cancer, surgery may be needed to treat this specific condition.

What are the risk factors for developing prostate cancer?

Anything that increases the risk of getting a disease is called a “risk factor.” Having one or more risk factors does not mean that someone will absolutely develop a particular type of cancer; not having any risk factors also doesn’t mean that someone will not develop a particular type of cancer.

Risk factors specific to developing prostate cancer include:

  • Older age
  • Being African American
  • Inheriting genetic types of prostate cancer

Patients can take a risk factor test to understand whether they have an elevated risk of developing prostate cancer. Genetic testing is also available at Siteman Cancer Center to detect potential cancer-causing mutations in your genetic makeup.

How is prostate cancer treated?

Prostate cancer can be treated and is often curable at early stages. Depending on its stage, several treatment methods may be necessary to prostate lung cancer. Treatment methods include:

Treating Prostate Cancer at Washington University

Prostate cancer is one of many cancers actively treated by Washington University Physicians at Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, where our mission is to prevent cancer in the community and transform cancer patient care through scientific discovery. The combined expertise and experience of our researcher-physicians reduces the cancer burden regionally and nationally. Our program has developed from an intimate partnership with Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, institutions recognized for their medical excellence.

Patients who come to the Siteman Cancer Center for treatment of prostate cancer are seen by a team of Washington University Physicians — surgical, medical and radiation oncologists — often during the same visit.

Siteman Cancer Center has an online tool that helps patients assess their cancer risk and suggest ways to lower it. This tool is available at

Contact us for an appointment by filling out the appointment request form. Newly diagnosed patients also may call the registered nurses in our Patient Care Coordination Center, toll-free at 800-600-3606 from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays.