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What Is Prostate Cancer?
The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system that produces the majority of seminal fluid that carries sperm. The walnut-sized gland is located beneath a man’s bladder and surrounds the upper part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. Prostate function is regulated by testosterone, a male sex hormone produced mainly in the testicles.
Prostate cancer is a major health concern for American men. Although the disease is rare before age 50, experts believe that most elderly men have at least traces of it.
More than 241,000 new cases will be diagnosed, and about 28,000 deaths will be attributed to prostate cancer, in 2012 in the U.S. For reasons not fully understood, African-American men have the highest frequency of prostate cancer in the world and the highest death rate from the disease. In other parts of the world — notably Asia, Africa, and Latin America — prostate cancer is rare.
Prostate cancer is typically a very slow growing tumor, often causing no symptoms until it is in an advanced stage. Most men with prostate cancer die of other causes — many without ever realizing that they have the disease. But once prostate cancer begins to grow more rapidly or spreads outside the prostate, it is dangerous. This aggressive type of prostate cancer can occur at any age. Although the disease tends to progress slowly, it is generally fatal if it spreads beyond the prostate gland itself.
Prostate cancer in its early stages (confined to the prostate gland) can be effectively treated, with very good outcomes for survival. Fortunately, about 85% of American men with prostate cancer are diagnosed in an early stage of the disease.
Cancer that has spread beyond the prostate to distant tissues (such as the bones, lymph nodes, and lungs) is not curable, but it may be controlled for many years. Because of the many advances in available treatments, the majority of men whose prostate cancer becomes widespread can expect to live five years or more.
What Causes Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer affects mainly older men. Four out of five cases are diagnosed in men over 65, but less than 1% in men under 50. Though rare, prostate cancer can be seen in men in their 30′s and 40′s. Men with a family history of prostate cancer are more likely to develop the disease than the general population. On a case-by-case basis, doctors cannot say with certainty what causes prostate cancer, but experts generally agree that diet contributes to the risk. Men who consume large amounts of fat — particularly from red meat and other sources of animal fat — are most likely to develop prostate cancer. The disease is much more common in countries where meat and dairy products are dietary staples than in countries where the basic diet consists of rice, soybean products, and vegetables.
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