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What is Prostate Cancer?
If you're a 50 year old male, you have a 25% chance of having at least some cancerous cells in your prostate gland -- and that risk grows as you age, making regular prostate exams a wise choice for health maintenance.
More American men die from this disease than any other type of cancer with the exception of lung cancer, and the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2002 alone, 189,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Yet prostate cancer grows very slowly, which means while approximately 16% of men in the U.S. will develop the disease, just 3% will die from it.
How Cancer Develops
Cancer is a disease that can take on a number of forms -- and prostate cancer is just one of them. Yet any form of cancer begins when cells in the body do not have a normal life cycle. Instead of growing, dividing and dying -- to be replaced by new cells -- sometimes cells continue dividing but don't die. These cells can form tissue that is called a tumor.
Not all tumors are cancerous. Benign tumors are not life-threatening and are not cancerous. They are masses of tissue that can be removed, and which don't spread to other parts of the body.
In the prostate, sometimes men develop a benign tumor that grows and presses on surrounding tissues such as those of the bladder and urethra. This can affect the flow of urine from the body, reducing it or making it difficult to urinate. This is called "benign prostatic hyperplasia" or BPH, and it affects over 50% of 60- to 70-year-old American men, and 90% of 70- to 90-year-olds. While BPH may sometimes require treatment, it will not spread to other parts of the body and it isn't deadly.
The cells in malignant tumors, however, are cancerous. These cells can divide and spread to other parts of the body through the blood stream and lymphatic system, affecting healthy tissue and organs. This spreading is called "metastasis."
If a malignant tumor forms in the prostate, cancer cells can spread to lymph nodes near the prostate, the lymph nodes in other parts of the body, and to any number of organs, including the bones. This forms new, secondary tumors.