Taking the Mystery Out of Prostate Cancer

Jonathan Vellinga, MD -

Taking the Mystery Out of Prostate Cancer

A diagnosis of prostate cancer is not a death sentence. It may strike fear in the heart of a man when he hears those words, but current statistics can help dispel that fear. Prostate cancer often grows slowly (1), so in many cases, there is time to get a second opinion and formulate a plan. However, even if you do get a diagnosis of prostate cancer, the chances are it will be a slow-growing variety, and your doctor may encourage you to adopt “watchful waiting” (2).


However, the best case scenario is to take action to prevent prostate cancer (or any cancer) from happening in the first place. We highly encourage a proactive approach to reduce your risk of any cancer, as detailed in our article, “Can We Prevent Cancer?” This article will not repeat that information but will instead focus on some details specific to prostate cancer; healing paths that functional medicine can offer for prevention, complementary therapies during treatment, and post-treatment strategies.


The Prostate: The Little Gland with a Big Impact


The prostate is a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It lives below the bladder and wraps around the urethra, which is the tube leading from the bladder and out of the penis. The prostate’s function is to produce a fluid that carries sperm out of the body during ejaculation. Because it wraps around the urethra, the first symptom that something might be awry is the inability to have a steady flow of urine. When the prostate is swollen with inflammation or a tumor is growing there, it can constrict the urethra in such a way that it affects the normal flow of urine. Your bladder may not feel like it is completely emptied, and no urine flows, though you still feel the urge to urinate.


It’s very important to see a doctor when symptoms first occur, to determine the degree of seriousness. There are less serious conditions, such as prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate that is non-cancerous), that have similar symptoms to prostate cancer. Prompt attention could relieve painful symptoms quickly and help rule out a more serious root cause.


Prostate cancer occurs when the cells of the prostate gland multiply at an abnormal pace and do not undergo their normal rate of cell death. This can cause the gland to grow, create a tumor, and even clamp the flow of all fluids from the urethra. These abnormal cells can break off and invade nearby lymph nodes or travel to other parts of the body, including the spine and the brain. This is called “metastasis.”


Prostate Cancer Risk Factors and Statistics


Many factors increase the risk of having prostate cancer. While about 1 out of 8 men may receive a prostate cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, only about 1 in 41 will actually succumb and pass away from it. It is estimated that there will be 268,560 new prostate cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. in 2022 (3). Roughly speaking, the odds are you won’t get prostate cancer, and if you do get it, odds are it won’t be fatal.


AGE

Age is a big factor, as most diagnoses happen in the mid-60s. It’s rare for a man younger than 40 to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and most diagnoses happen in men over the age of 65, with the average age of diagnosis being about 66 years of age (4). While cancer isn’t the norm for the body, when it does occur, it’s often contained and eliminated by the immune system. However, as we age, the immune system may not catch and conquer all the overgrowths of cells.


FAMILY

Genetics is thought to play a role, as having a brother that is diagnosed with prostate cancer triples the risk, even more so than having a father with the diagnosis, which only doubles the risk (5). (Having multiple members of the family with a diagnosis increases risk as well.)