Prostate Cancer: Introduction

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Prostate Cancer. To see other pages, use the menu. Think of that menu as a roadmap to this full guide.

About the prostate

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located behind the base of a man’s penis, in front of the rectum, and below the bladder. It surrounds the urethra, the tube-like channel that carries urine and semen through the penis. The prostate's main function is to make seminal fluid, the liquid in semen that protects, supports, and helps transport sperm.

About prostate cancer

Cancer begins when healthy cells in the prostate change and grow out of control, forming a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.

Prostate cancer is somewhat unusual when compared with other types of cancer. This is because many prostate tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. Some prostate cancers grow very slowly and may not cause symptoms or problems for years. Even when prostate cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it often can be managed, allowing men with advanced prostate cancer to live with good health and quality of life for several years. However, if the cancer cannot be well controlled with existing treatments, it can cause pain, fatigue, and sometimes, death.

About prostate-specific antigen (PSA)

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein produced by cells in the prostate gland. PSA is detected using a blood test. Higher-than-normal levels of PSA can be found in men with prostate cancer, as well as other non-cancerous prostate conditions. Those conditions include benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is an enlarged prostate, and prostatitis, which is inflammation or infection of the prostate. In addition, ejaculation and riding a bicycle can temporarily increase PSA values, so these activities should be avoided before people have PSA testing. See the Screening section for more information.

More than 95% of prostate cancers are a type called adenocarcinomas. A rare type of prostate cancer known as neuroendocrine cancer or small cell cancer tends to be more aggressive, spread outside the prostate earlier, and usually does not make too much PSA. Read more about neuroendocrine tumors.

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The next section in this guide is Statistics. It helps explain how many men are diagnosed with this disease and general survival rates. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.