Prostate cancer may not cause obvious symptoms, especially when the disease is not advanced. But there are red flag prostate cancer symptoms you should know.
With the exception of skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common malignancy affecting American men. So, recognizing prostate cancer symptoms may seem like the best way to identify the disease early. However, prostate cancer detection via symptoms can be complicated.
Prostate cancer may produce no signs at all until it is advanced. On the other hand, there are several non-cancerous conditions of the prostate with symptoms that may be uncomfortable and similar to prostate cancer symptoms but are not related to a malignancy.
That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about when you should be screened for prostate cancer — based on your age, family and personal health history, and other risk factors — regardless of whether you have specific prostate cancer symptoms.
Of course, every man also needs to know the red flags that could indicate a potential malignancy of the prostate.
Understanding symptoms of prostate cancer
The prostate, a small gland about the size of a walnut, sits in front of the rectum and just below the bladder, wrapping around a tube that moves both semen and urine out of the body. It’s easy to understand how the prostate’s location in the body can cause both urination and ejaculation problems if the gland becomes enlarged. And that’s just what often happens as men age.
A larger-than-normal prostate can cause the urethra to narrow, resulting in urination problems. This condition, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is not an indication of prostate cancer, although both health problems can share some of the same symptoms, including difficulty passing urine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out.
Because prostate cancer tends to grow slowly compared to other malignancies, cancerous changes in the prostate may begin 10, 20, or even 30 years before a tumor is large enough to cause prostate cancer symptoms. In fact, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) explains that by age 50, many men have precancerous or cancer cells in their prostate, but very few have any overt symptoms of prostate cancer, and some slow growing cancers may never be life-threatening.
However, prostate cancer can metastasize and be fatal. So regular screenings and recognizing the symptoms of prostate cancer when they do occur is important for prompt diagnosis and treatment.
See your doctor ASAP about these symptoms
Because most early prostate cancer doesn’t cause symptoms, the majority of early cancers are found through screening, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
More advanced prostate cancers may cause any of these symptoms:
Problems with urination, including urinating frequently, especially at night, and having a slow or weak urine stream. Pain or burning when passing urine may occur, too.
- Blood in semen or urine.
- Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction, or ED).
- Bone pain, especially in your back. This can be a symptom of advanced prostate cancer that has metastasized, the NCI points out.
- Weakness or numbness in your legs or feet, or loss of bladder or bowel control caused by cancer pressing on the spinal cord.
Bottom line? Talk to your doctor about prostate cancer symptoms
If you have any prostate cancer symptoms, don’t panic. Most of these problems are more likely to be caused by something that isn’t prostate cancer, according to the ACS. A case in point: Difficulty urinating is more often likely the result of benign BPH than cancer.
However, don’t guess about prostate cancer symptoms, and never ignore them.
Contact your doctor ASAP if you have any potential prostate cancer symptoms, for an examination. Additional tests, including a physical exam, PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test and a prostate biopsy, if needed, can determine the cause of your symptoms — whether cancer, or not — and lead to the right treatment.
June 26, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN