The prostate gland is about the same size and shape as a chestnut. It’s located at the base of the bladder. The urethra runs below it between two lobes of muscle tissue that reach from either side of the prostate. These two muscular lobes are the way in which the flow of urine is regulated through the urethra.
Inside the prostate seminal fluid is produced. This is the fluid that is released during orgasm and carries a man’s sperm.
When abnormal cells are produced and begin to reproduce, they grow into a mass of tissue called a tumor. When the cancerous cells begin to outgrow the normal cells, the functions of the prostate gland and the two lobes become compromised.
Usually prostate cancer has a slow growth rate. There have been cases where it has developed abnormally fast, but this is not typically the case. Prostate cancer cure rates are quite high when it is in the early stages, but there are typically no symptoms – so regular screening is essential.
Stage T1 prostate cancer is when it is first developing. Tumors at this point are small and there are no physical signs or symptoms outside of an elevated PSA level in the blood. PSA is the prostate specific antigen released into the blood as a result of tumors developing in the gland. A doctor may only be suspicious of the presence of cancer if the blood test results indicated an unusually high PSA level. If the suspicion is very high, for instance if the patient had close relatives with prostate cancer, a tissue sample would be sent for a biopsy to verify it.
T2 prostate cancer is the stage at which the functions of the prostate gland begin to be affected by the growing disease. Symptoms at this point include the following.
- An intense need to urinate
- Frequent urination throughout the night
- A feeling that the bladder is still full even after urinating
- Trouble starting or stopping the flow of urine
- Unable to urinate at all
- Weak urine flow
- Pain or burning while urinating or during orgasm
- Blood in semen or urine
A doctor at this stage may be able to feel an area of hardness on the surface of the prostate during a digital rectal exam although this is not always the case.
If these signs and symptoms are present, a blood test would be done for PSA levels. A tissue sample would be sent for biopsy.
T3 prostate cancer is the first stage at which the tumors have multiplied and often the cancer has grown beyond the confines of the prostate.
Once the cancer has extended outside of the prostate, there is no known cure.
The first likely destination of the cancer at this point is within the seminal vesicles. In some cases it may reach into the bladder or rectum as well.
T4 prostate cancer is the last stage in the progress of prostate cancer. It has likely moved into the bladder, rectum and pelvic bone. It may also begin to travel to other parts of the body through the blood stream. There is no cure for this stage, but hormone therapy may help to slow the disease.
Prostate cancer staging is important for your urologist to determine the best course of treatment and the likelihood of cure. The key to surviving prostate cancer is early screening, detection and treatment. Treatments besides the traditional surgery and radiation are available, including high intensity focused ultrasound. Discuss your options with your doctor.
by Barb Francis