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What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer happens when cells grow abnormally and out of control in the prostate gland, the small organ below a man's bladder that makes fluid for semen. Prostate cancer is usually slow-growing and can often be cured, but the cancer cells can grow and spread to other parts of the body.

Our approach

Northwell Health Cancer Institute takes a comprehensive approach to treating prostate cancer. Our multidisciplinary team of specialists has unparalleled experience diagnosing and treating prostate cancer at one of the largest cancer centers in the New York metro area. We offer specialized therapies available at only a few cancer centers in the nation, including:

  • Minimally invasive robotic surgery that grants patients quicker recovery, less pain and minimal scarring
  • The latest radiotherapy techniques for prostate cancer, including stereotactic radiation therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and HDR brachytherapy
  • Focal therapy with cryotherapy, brachytherapy or laser ablation 
  • Clinical trials of new therapies for prostate cancer

If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, your oncologist will explain all your treatment options and create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and goals. Throughout your treatment, you will work closely with a dedicated team of specialists in medical oncology, surgical oncology and radiation oncology who collaborate to ensure seamless coordination of your care. Because every prostate cancer diagnosis is unique, the physicians providing your treatment will meet once a week to share ideas and review every step of your care.

Research at Northwell

As part of your prostate cancer treatment plan, you may have opportunities to participate in clinical trials. These trials study new chemotherapy drugs, radiation technologies and surgical approaches. While not every patient is a candidate for clinical trials, your care team will work with you to determine eligibility. Learn more about clinical trials at Northwell Health.

Symptoms

Warning signs of prostate cancer are often detected during routine annual exam screenings. Common symptoms include:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Blood in the semen
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain

Be aware that these symptoms could be due to conditions other than prostate cancer, so it’s best to see a doctor right away.

Causes

Experts don't know what exactly what causes prostate cancer. However, some things are known to increase your risk of getting it.

Risk factors

Age is the main risk factor for prostate cancer; most people are diagnosed with the disease at 50 or older. Other things that can increase your risk include your family history (genetics) and race.

If you think you have a family history of prostate cancer, you may want to talk with a genetic counselor about genetic testing to determine if you have a genetic mutation that increases your chance of developing the disease. Learn more about genetic counseling at Northwell Health.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may check for prostate cancer with a blood test called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or a digital rectal exam. If your PSA level is high, you'll likely have more tests to find the cause. A biopsy may be done to diagnose the cancer

Treatment types

There are different types of treatment for prostate cancer. Four types of standard treatment are:

  • Surgery—If your goal is to treat the cancer by having your prostate removed, then you may want to choose surgery. For some men, the idea of fully removing the cancer brings a sense of relief. For other men, avoiding radiation may be what is important to them.
  • Immunotherapy—Recent advancements in immunotherapies are offering new treatment options for patients with prostate cancer that has recurred or progressed after other treatments.
  • Radiation therapy—If your goal is to treat the cancer and avoid the risks of major surgery, then you may want to choose radiation. For some men, preserving their sexual function for as long as possible is what they value most, and having radiation rather than surgery may help avoid erection problems. Northwell Health Cancer Institute offers the most advanced radiation therapies for prostate cancer, including external-beam radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), brachytherapy and proton therapy.
  • Active surveillance—Active surveillance is another option for some men who have localized prostate cancer (cancer that hasn't spread outside the prostate). For men with low-risk cancer and for some men with medium-risk cancer, choosing active surveillance may help avoid or delay treatments like surgery or radiation.

Approximately 10 to 12 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer will have metastatic disease. If the cancer has advanced, radiation therapy is sometimes used to keep the cancer under control and as a palliative treatment to help minimize painful symptoms associated with cancer. Whether active surveillance is a good choice for you is something you will want to discuss with your doctor. Together, you and your doctor will want to consider:

  • Your life expectancy
  • The stage and Gleason score of your cancer
  • Your general health
  • The possible side effects you might have from other treatments

With active surveillance, you and your doctor will watch your cancer closely to see if the cancer appears to be growing. During this time, you will have checkups and tests, such as PSA tests, digital rectal exams, and prostate biopsies.

Living with

  • Your doctor will talk to you about your treatment options. You may need to learn more about each of them before you can decide which treatment is best for you.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Eat healthy food. If you do not feel like eating, try to eat food that has protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss. Drink liquid meal replacements for extra calories and protein. Try to eat your main meal early.
  • Take steps to control your stress and workload. Learn relaxation techniques.
    • Share your feelings. Stress and tension affect our emotions. By expressing your feelings to others, you may be able to understand and cope with them.
    • Consider joining a support group. Talking about a problem with your spouse, a good friend, or other people with similar problems is a good way to reduce tension and stress.
    • Express yourself through art. Try writing, crafts, dance, or art to relieve stress. Some dance, writing, or art groups may be available just for people who have cancer.
    • Be kind to your body and mind. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and taking time to do things you enjoy can contribute to an overall feeling of balance in your life and can help reduce stress.
    • Get help if you need it. Discuss your concerns with your doctor or counselor.
  • Get some physical activity every day, but do not get too tired. Keep doing the hobbies you enjoy as your energy allows.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhea:
    • Drink plenty of fluids (enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water) to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • When you are able to eat, try clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Jell-O, dry toast, crackers, and cooked cereal are also good choices.
  • If you have not already done so, prepare a list of advance directives. Advance directives are instructions to your doctor and family members about what kind of care you want if you become unable to speak or express yourself.
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