The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system responsible for the production of seminal fluid. The prostate is situated just in front of the rectum. Sometimes lumps or nodules grow in the prostate and should be checked to discover if they are cancerous. Nodules differ in shape, size and can be hard or soft but no particular shape or size is definitely cancerous or benign.
A nodule in the prostate gland is unlikely to be noticed by the patient and a nodule is usually only discovered when a man is given a medical examination. The lump is likely to go undetected until it grows large enough to press against the urethra and begin to effect the flow of urine. Prostate cancer is very difficult to detect as there are often no visible signs but, if any or all of the following occur, a test or examination needs to be undertaken. Men may notice that they have a frequent need to urinate or an inability to urinate. This can be coupled with difficulty starting or stopping the flow of urine.
Other urinary problems which might indicate prostate problems are if the urine flow stops and starts involuntarily or if there is a burning sensation during urination.
Men are advised to check with their doctors if they have erection problems or if there is pain when they ejaculate. Similarly consistent pains in the lower back and groin region are symptoms of possible prostate problems.
A prostate examination is carried out by inserting a finger into the rectum to feel for any lumps or enlargements. This test is referred to as DRE or Digital Rectal examination. The prostate is sited very close to the rectum so this is the easiest way for the doctor to tell if it is healthy. A PSA blood test to find Prostate Specific Antigen also is carried out although this is not a conclusive test that cancer is present, if levels are raised it can help diagnosis. Levels of PSA below 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood are considered normal.
Prostate cancer can be indicated by high levels of PSA and an enlarged prostate gland but a firm diagnosis can only be made by taking a biopsy. This is usually done under local anesthetic and some tissue is taken from the gland with a needle. The cells are then checked under a microscope to see if they are cancerous. If there are cancerous cells, further tests such as bone scans or MRI (Magnetic resonance Imaging) are likely to be carried out to detect whether the cancer has spread. At this stage treatment can be discussed and decided.
Slow Growing but Dangerous
Prostate cancer is one of the slowest growing cancers, it will still be responsible for an estimated 32,500 deaths in the United States in 2010, according to research figures given by the American Cancer Society. Although many men avoid seeing their doctors because they feel embarrassed, the tests are carried out routinely and may save their lives.