King Charles of Britain was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Buckingham Palace stated on Monday. But what is this kind of cancer, and what else might one need to know about it?
What is the prostate?
The prostate gland, known as the “armoanit” in Hebrew, belongs to the male reproductive system and is located above the ring and, surrounds the urethra to which it is attached. Its main function is to secrete prostatic fluid, a milky fluid that is the main component of semen, aiding in the survival of sperm after ejaculation in the female reproductive tract.
How common is prostate cancer?
It is the most common cancer in men. According to information, about one-third of men over the age of 50 and the majority of men over the age of 80 already have cancerous cells in the prostate. Prostate cancer grows very slowly, and therefore, often, especially in older individuals, it does not cause symptoms. In rare cases, the cancerous growth may increase rapidly and may even spread to other organs in the body, especially to the bones.
How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
In recent years, it is recommended for men to undergo a blood test to detect levels of a marker called PSA. Elevated levels of this marker indicate suspicion of prostate cancer. Guidelines from the American Task Force for Preventive Services recommend that men aged 55 to 69 undergo the blood test even if they do not exhibit suspicious symptoms. However, prostate cancer does not always cause an increase in PSA levels, so in cases of suspected prostate cancer, an MRI scan is the preferred diagnostic tool.
Who is at an increased risk of the disease?
There are families with a higher incidence of prostate cancer. For example, those with a father or brother who had prostate cancer are at an increased risk and are advised to be screened by an oncologist starting at the age of 40. Those with the BRCA gene mutation, which is associated with breast cancer, are also at an increased risk, as well as those in families with a high incidence of breast and ovarian cancers.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
In the early stages of prostate cancer, it may not cause any symptoms. Only when the growth expands and puts pressure on the urethra may suspicious symptoms appear. Since prostate cancer grows slowly, the onset of symptoms can occur years after the growth itself. In many cases, men over the age of 50 experience benign enlargement of the prostate, which is not cancerous and is caused by non-cancerous factors.
The symptoms of benign enlargement (non-cancerous) of the prostate and cancerous growth are similar, including difficulty urinating, increased frequency of urination, especially at night, pain during urination, blood in the urine (rare), blood in semen, and impaired sexual function. If the cancerous growth extends to the bones, bone pain may occur. Sometimes, the initial symptoms include muscle pain in the back, hips, or pelvis.
How is prostate cancer treated?
The choice of treatment depends on the stage of the disease and the aggressiveness of the growth. In cases of low-moderate risk and a small tumor confined to the prostate, only monitoring with PSA testing every six months is recommended. If there is no increase in PSA levels, monitoring continues.
Normal PSA values are calculated based on the patient’s age and estimated prostate volume. Software calculates the overall risk level for prostate cancer. In general, PSA levels above ten nanograms per milliliter are considered high and abnormal, but in younger individuals aged 45, elevated PSA levels may be around six nanograms per milliliter.
For cases of moderately emitting tumors, monitoring is only performed in older individuals since even with cancerous growth, the life expectancy without treatment is over ten years. However, in younger individuals, the disease may spread and shorten life expectancy, so definitive removal of the prostate is necessary, usually using the robotic “Da Vinci” system.
After the removal of the prostate, the urethra is reconnected to the bladder, being careful not to damage the nerves on both sides of the prostate responsible for erection. If the cancerous growth involves these nerve fibers, they may need to be cut completely.
Two weeks after surgery, there may be an issue with controlling urine, so patients typically undergo pelvic muscle strengthening exercises and often regain control within two weeks to six months.
In cases of high-emitting tumors that have already spread, a complete removal of the prostate is performed, followed by chemotherapy or biological treatments. Nowadays, efforts are made to avoid radiation therapy due to severe side effects that can damage the pelvic area and the rectum.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report