Understanding Prostate Cancer: What Is Prostate Cancer?

To understand prostate cancer, it’s first important to understand what cancer is: basically, the production of abnormal cells.

The body is programmed to routinely replenish cells in different organs. As normal cells age or get damaged, they die off. New cells take their place. This is what’s supposed to happen. Abnormal cell growth refers to a buildup of extra cells. This happens when:

  • New cells form even though the body doesn’t need them or
  • Old, damaged cells don’t die off.

These extra cells slowly accumulate to form a tissue mass, lump, or growth called a tumor. These abnormal cells can destroy normal body tissue and spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system.

Understanding Prostate Cancer

First, it’s helpful to understand what the prostate is. The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system. It is located below the bladder and in front of the rectum. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), there were about 180,890 new cases of prostate cancer in the U.S. in 2016. It is one of the most common cancers in older men.

Benign vs. Malignant: What’s the Difference?

Benign means not cancerous. A benign tumor can get larger but does not spread to other tissues or organs.

Malignant means cancerous. A malignant tumor’s cells can invade nearby tissue and lymph nodes and then spread to other organs. These cells are destructive.

Benign tumors:

  • Can be removed
  • Usually don’t grow back
  • Are rarely fatal
  • Don’t spread to other tissues or body parts

Malignant tumors:

  • Can often be removed
  • Sometimes grow back
  • Can invade other tissues and organs and cause damage
  • Can spread to other body parts
  • Can be fatal

Prostate growths can be benign.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is the name for the benign growth of prostate cells. This is not cancer. In this condition, your prostate gets bigger and squeezes your urethra. This keeps you from producing a normal flow of urine.

BPH is a very common problem. In fact, in the U.S. most men over age 50 have symptoms of BPH.

Next: How is prostate cancer diagnosed? 

Back to “Understanding Prostate Cancer: An Introduction”