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Prostate Cancer FAQs

We've included a list of questions commonly asked by our newly diagnosed cancer patients, along with answers from our specialists.

Is prostate cancer a fast-growing cancer?
Your physician will be better able to answer this question once a pathologist has looked at a sample of your prostate tissue under a microscope. Typically, a higher grade of cancer (a high Gleason score) means that the cancer cells are fast growing.

I have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. How do the numbers for my PSA and Gleason score determine my treatment?
Your physician will look at both your PSA levels and your Gleason score to determine if your cancer is aggressive. To assign a Gleason Grade, tissue samples will be taken of your tumor and a pathologist will view it under a microscope. He or she will then assign a Gleason Grade to the tumor based on what the cells look like and how they are arranged under the microscope. The cells are assigned a number between 1 and 5. Grade 1 is the least aggressive form of cancer. These cells almost look like healthy prostate cells. Grade 5 is the most aggressive. These cells don't look anything at all like healthy cells.

The prostate cancer may also contain more than one cell pattern, thus more than one grade. When this occurs, the tumor is assigned another number that indicates the two most commonly occurring cells in the tumor. The grades are then added together for the final Gleason score, which can range from 2 to 10. Treatment will then be based on this score, your age and your overall general health.

How could I have cancer? I didn't have any symptoms.
Most early cancers rarely show symptoms. The benefit of screening for many types of cancer, including breast, prostate and colon, is that cancer can be caught early when treatment is most effective.

What causes prostate cancer?
Although there are no known causes of prostate cancer, risk factors may play a significant role. One such risk factor is a diet high in animal fats which leads to greater production of the male hormone testosterone. This hormone, medical researchers believe, plays a role in prostate cancer because testosterone stimulates the growth of prostate cells. Obesity is also considered a risk factor.

Learn about the cause of prostate cancer.

How common is prostate cancer?
Cancer of the prostate strikes about 330,000 men annually in the United States and about 40,000 die each year from the disease. It is the most common cancer in American men and is the second-leading cause of cancer death. (Lung cancer is number one.) African American men are at the highest risk of developing prostate cancer. Their risk is estimated to be 66 percent higher than for white American men.

Prostate cancer is rare before age 40. More than 75 percent of cases are diagnosed in men over age 65. An estimated one in three men will develop prostate cancer in his lifetime.

Prostate cancer facts

What are the goals of treatment?
The goals of treatment are to eradicate cancer and to help you achieve an excellent outcome and quality of life following your treatment. Virginia Mason specialists are dedicating efforts to helping patients live well beyond a diagnosis of cancer. All Virginia Mason cancer survivors are encouraged to meet with specialists within the Survivorship Clinic to talk about quality of life and "what's next" after their treatment for cancer. It is important to remember that more than 11 million Americans today are cancer survivors.

How many doctors will be involved in my care?
Several specialists will be involved in your care including prostate cancer surgeons, medical oncologists (doctors who treat cancer with chemotherapy), radiation oncologists (doctors who treat cancer with radiation), nurses, radiologists, pathologists, and sexual dysfunction specialists who have specialized training and interest in prostate cancer.

What will happen if I decide not to undergo treatment?
The decision to undergo treatment resides completely with you and your family. Many cancers, when caught early, are highly treatable, allowing patients to live years and even decades beyond their initial diagnosis. However, older men with newly diagnosed, slow-growing prostate cancer may be advised to undergo "active surveillance." The theory behind "active surveillance" is that these men may die of other causes before they would die from prostate cancer. Patients choosing "active surveillance" are closely monitored.  A decision about whether or not to have treatment should be made after discussions with your family, your doctor, and after carefully weighing all the options available to you.

Will my age determine the treatment I receive?
In some cases related to prostate cancer, yes. Younger, healthy men with prostate cancer will commonly be advised to have therapy for their disease while older men with slow growing cancer may be advised to undergo "active surveillance." Because of better screening, most prostate cancers are diagnosed at an early stage and many of them are slow-growing tumors. Other important factors that will play a role in determining the treatment you receive are the stage and grade of your cancer as well as your overall general health.

Should my family members be tested for cancer?
Some cancers - breast, prostate, pancreatic and colon - can have a hereditary component that may make it advisable for family members to be tested. Virginia Mason offers a Hereditary Cancer Risk Consultation to help patients and their family members who are thinking about having genetic testing performed.

Is prostate cancer hereditary?

What do I need to do after I've had all of my treatment?
Virginia Mason specialists are dedicating efforts to helping patients live well beyond a diagnosis of cancer. All Virginia Mason cancer survivors are encouraged to meet with specialists within the Survivorship Clinic to talk about quality of life and "what's next" after their cancer treatment.

Will my cancer come back?
This is one of the most common questions asked by cancer survivors. In some cases cancer can recur or a new cancer can form years or even decades after treatment. One of the goals of the Survivorship Clinic at Virginia Mason is to help patients come to terms with their fears about cancer recurrence so they can lead productive, fulfilling lives. Another goal is to ensure that survivors realize the importance of, and are scheduled for, periodic check-ups after their last treatment for cancer.