How Active Surveillance Works
The Gleason score is just one way that doctors monitor prostate cancer during active surveillance. They also do periodic follow-up biopsies and measure PSA levels, which may rise if cancer starts to spread in the prostate. Doctors may recommend treatment sooner if PSA begins to rise quickly or if a follow up biopsy reveals a higher Gleason score or more widespread cancer within the prostate. Its an inexact science that depends on a doctors skill and experience and a mans willingness to wait for signs that a cancer poses a clear threat before opting for treatment and its potential for side effects.
Penney says she and her Harvard colleagues are among the many scientists now searching for better ways to predict which prostate cancers are likely to be lethal and which can be monitored and not treated. The answer may be found in genetic changes in prostate cancer cells that signal a higher threat. But finding a better way to predict which prostate cancers are likely to turn lethal is far from guaranteed.
Some believe its not possible, Penney says. After the cancer is diagnosed, so many things can change in unknown ways. Diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors, for example, could affect whether low-risk prostate cancers become more aggressive or threatening over time.
Understanding Prostate Cancers Progression
To determine the appropriate treatment, doctors need to know how far the cancer has progressed, or its stage. A pathologist, the doctor trained in analyzing cells taken during a prostate biopsy, will provide two starting pointsthe cancers grade and Gleason score.
- Cancer grade: When the pathologist looks at prostate cancer cells, the most common type of cells will get a grade of 3 to 5. The area of cancer cells in the prostate will also be graded. The higher the grade, the more abnormal the cells.
- Gleason score: The two grades will be added together to get a Gleason score. This score tells doctors how likely the cancer is to grow and spread.
After a biopsy confirms prostate cancer, the patient may undergo additional tests to see whether it has spread through the blood or lymph nodes to other parts of the body. These tests are usually imaging studies and may include a bone scan, positron emission tomography scan or computed tomography scan.
Screening For Prostate Cancer
There are no tests available with sufficient accuracy to screen populations of men for early signs of prostate cancer. However, early detection and treatment can significantly improve prostate cancer survival.
The test most commonly used to aid early detection of prostate cancer is the prostate specific antigen blood test. This is not a diagnostic test as it can only indicate changes in the prostate. If you are concerned about prostate cancer you should talk to your doctor and make an informed choice about whether to have one of the tests designed to find early signs of prostate cancer, in view of the potential risks and benefits.
There are no proven measures to prevent prostate cancer.
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Where Prostate Cancer Spreads
If left untreated, diagnosed prostate cancer can grow and possibly spread outside of the prostate to local tissues or distantly to other sites in the body. The first sites of spread are typically to the nearby tissues.
The cancer can spread down the blood vessels, lymphatic channels, or nerves that enter and exit the prostate, or cancer could erode directly through the capsule that surrounds the prostate.
The seminal vesicles are a site of particularly common early spread. More extensive local spread can occur with cancer invading the nearby bladder or rectum.
Further advancement of cancer can occur when cancer cells enter the blood vessels and lymphatic channels. Once cancer has entered into these vessels, prostate cancer cells can seed into virtually any other part of the body.
Prostate cancer is known to have a particular affinity for spreading or metastasizing to the bones especially the lower spine, pelvis, and femur. Other organs such as the liver, brain, or lungs can also be the sites of spread, but these are much rarer.
Prostate Cancer Risk Groups
In addition to stage, doctors may use other prognostic factors to help plan the best treatment and predict how successful treatment will be. Examples of these include the National Comprehensive Cancer Network risk group categories and the Cancer of the Prostate Risk Assessment risk score from University of California, San Francisco.
Information about the cancers stage and other prognostic factors will help the doctor recommend a specific treatment plan. The next section in this guide is Types of Treatment. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.
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What Are The Stages Of Prostate Cancer
Your healthcare provider uses the Gleason score and Grade Groups to stage prostate cancer based on its projected aggressiveness. To get this information, the pathologist:
- Assigns a grade to each type of cell in your sample. Cells are graded on a scale of three to five . Samples that test in the one to two range are considered normal tissue.
- Adds together the two most common grades to get your Gleason score .
- Uses the Gleason score to place you into a Grade Group ranging from one to five. A Gleason score of six puts you in Grade Group 1 . A score of nine or higher puts you in Grade Group five . Samples with a higher portion of more aggressive cells receive a higher Grade Group.
Questions To Ask Your Doctor
To help understand the progression of prostate cancer, discuss these questions with your doctors:
- What is my Gleason score?
- Has the cancer spread outside my prostate?
- Whats my prostate cancer stage?
- Are other tests needed to determine my cancer stage?
- What are the treatment options for my stage of cancer?
- Can I avoid treatment right now and go on active surveillance?
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Predicting Aggressive Prostate Cancer
If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, your doctor will probably evaluate several factors to determine how aggressive it is. These “markers” identify whether the cancer is low risk, intermediate risk, or high risk. Low-risk prostate cancer is slow growing and not likely to spread quickly. High-risk prostate cancer is aggressive, meaning it is likely to spread quickly outside the prostate. Understanding the risk level of your cancer will help your doctor advise you about possible treatments. Your doctor will look at key “markers” for aggressive cancer, as well as the “stage” of your specific cancer.
Commonly used markers for prostate cancer include:
The stages of prostate cancer refer to the cancer size and how far it has spread. The stages are:
- Localized Prostate Cancer is stage I to stage IIIA. At this stage, the tumor is confined to the prostate.
- Regional Prostate Cancer, also known as local extension, is stage IIIB to IVA. The tumor has grown through the prostate capsule, either into the seminal vesicles or into nearby muscles and organs.
- Metastatic Prostate Cancer is referred to as stage IVB. The tumor has spread to the distant lymph nodes or more distant parts of the body.
Attention to the general health of a patient as well as the patient’s wishes are also an important part of treatment decisions.
What Are Prostate Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Some prostate cancer treatments can affect the bladder, erectile nerves and sphincter muscle, which controls urination. Potential problems include:
- Incontinence: Some men experience urinary incontinence. You may leak urine when you cough or laugh, or you may feel an urgent need to use the bathroom even when your bladder isnt full. This problem can improve over the first six to 12 months without treatment.
- Erectile dysfunction : Surgery, radiation and other treatments can damage the erectile nerves and affect your ability to get or maintain an erection. Some men regain erectile function within a year or two . In the meantime, medications like sildenafil or tadalafil can help by increasing blood flow to the penis.
- Infertility: Treatments can affect your ability to produce or ejaculate sperm, resulting in male infertility. If you think you might want children in the future, you can preserve sperm in a sperm bank before you start treatments. After treatments, you may undergo sperm extraction. This procedure involves removing sperm directly from testicular tissue and implanting it into a womans uterus.
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Who Is At Risk For Prostate Cancer
Certain men are at higher risk than others for prostate cancer, which may affect when they should start being screened. The risk increases with age, particularly after age 50. Some risk factors include:
- African American men are twice as likely as white men to develop the disease.
- Having a family history a father or a brother diagnosed with prostate cancer, particularly if it is at a relatively early age increases the risk.
- Having a family history of breast and ovarian cancer may also be associated with an inherited risk of developing prostate cancer
- High-fat diet and/or obesity
How Is Prostate Cancer Diagnosed And Evaluated
Your primary doctor will ask about your medical history, risk factors and symptoms. You will also undergo a physical exam.
Many patients undergo regular prostate cancer screening before symptoms appear. Screening may involve one or more of the following tests:
- Prostate-specific antigen : This test analyzes a blood sample for levels of PSA, a protein the prostate produces. Higher PSA levels could indicate cancer is present.
- Digital Rectal Exam :This test examines the lower rectum and the prostate gland to check for abnormalities in size, shape or texture. The term “digital” refers to the doctor’s use of a gloved, lubricated finger to conduct the exam.
If screening test results are abnormal, your doctor may perform the following imaging tests:
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Level Of Health Literacy Affects Treatment Choice For Slow
- By Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Diseases
Men diagnosed with low- to intermediate-risk prostate cancer meaning cancers that are less likely to cause problems over time, even if left untreated face a difficult choice: should they undergo immediate treatment, or should they be monitored with active surveillance and be treated only if the cancer shows evidence of progression? Tests that measure the activity of certain genes and other cancer-related biomarkers can aid in that decision.
One such test, called Oncotype DX, measures the activity of 17 prostate cancer-associated genes in a biopsy sample. A low score on the test suggests that a man’s cancer is slow-growing, which makes active surveillance a reasonable option. Higher scores are reflective of more aggressive cancers that might be considered for earlier interventions, since without treatment, these cancers have a greater chance of spreading or becoming symptomatic.
The Oncotype DX test is becoming more widely used, and was validated repeatedly in studies showing that it could predict the extent of cancer in men who had their prostate glands surgically removed. The evidence from these studies suggests that the test provides useful information about a man’s overall prognosis.
What Questions Should I Ask My Healthcare Provider
If you have prostate cancer, you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- Why did I get prostate cancer?
- What is my Gleason score? What is my Grade Group? What do these numbers mean for me?
- Has the cancer spread outside of the prostate gland?
- What is the best treatment for the stage of prostate cancer I have?
- If I choose active surveillance, what can I expect? What signs of cancer should I look out for?
- What are the treatment risks and side effects?
- Is my family at risk for developing prostate cancer? If so, should we get genetic tests?
- Am I at risk for other types of cancer?
- What type of follow-up care do I need after treatment?
- Should I look out for signs of complications?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Prostate cancer is a common cancer that affects males. Most prostate cancers grow slowly and remain in the prostate gland. For a small number, the disease can be aggressive and spread quickly to other parts of the body. Men with slow-growing prostate cancers may choose active surveillance. With this approach, you can postpone, and sometimes completely forego, treatments. Your healthcare provider can discuss the best treatment option for you based on your Gleason score and Group Grade.
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What Are The Treatments For Prostate Cancer
There are many different ways to treat prostate cancer. For prostate cancer, it is important that you get a second opinion and you will most likely be consulting multiple types of healthcare providers before making a final decision. You should talk to both urologists and radiation oncologists to hear about the benefits and risks of surgery, hormonal therapy and radiation in your particular case. If your prostate cancer has already spread at the time of diagnosis, you will also need a medical oncologist to talk about chemotherapy. The most important thing is to review your options and make a decision that best suits your lifestyle, beliefs and values.
Surgery is a common form of treatment for men with prostate cancer. Surgery attempts to cure prostate cancer by removing the entire prostate and getting all of the cancer out of the body. An attempt at a surgical cure for prostate cancer is usually done with early stage prostate cancers. However, sometimes surgery will be used to relieve symptoms in advanced stage prostate cancers.
Talk to your surgeon about their complication rates before your operation. With surgery, urinary incontinence and impotence are often most severe right after the operation and generally get better with time. There are things that your providers can recommend to help you with either of these problems. Talk to your urologist about your options.
Hormonal Deprivation Therapy
Often Prostate Cancer Is Low
Many prostate cancers are found with a PSA blood test. Often these cancers are low-risk. This means:
- The tumor is small.
- It is contained within the prostate.
- It is probably growing so slowly that it will not become life-threatening.
Usually a man with low-risk prostate cancer dies of something else, even if he doesnt get treatment.
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What Stages Have To Do With Cancer Spread
Cancers are staged according to tumor size and how far it has spread at the time of diagnosis. Stages help doctors decide which treatments are most likely to work and give a general outlook.
There are different types of staging systems and some are specific to certain types of cancer. The following are the basic stages of cancer:
- In situ. Precancerous cells have been found, but they havent spread to surrounding tissue.
- Localized. Cancerous cells havent spread beyond where they started.
- Regional. Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, tissues, or organs.
- Distant. Cancer has reached distant organs or tissues.
- Unknown. Theres not enough information to determine the stage.
- Stage 0 or CIS. Abnormal cells have been found but have not spread into surrounding tissue. This is also called precancer.
- Stages 1, 2, and 3. The diagnosis of cancer is confirmed. The numbers represent how large the primary tumor has grown and how far the cancer has spread.
- Stage 4. Cancer has metastasized to distant parts of the body.
Your pathology report may use the TNM staging system, which provides more detailed information as follows:
T: Size of primary tumor
- TX: primary tumor cant be measured
- T0: primary tumor cant be located
- T1, T2, T3, T4: describes the size of the primary tumor and how far it may have grown into surrounding tissue
N: Number of regional lymph nodes affected by cancer
M: Whether cancer has metastasized or not
Living With Prostate Cancer
Living with prostate cancer depends on how early you were diagnosed. Also, it depends on the type of treatment you received. For example, if you had to have your prostate removed, you may have to live with sexual dysfunction. If you had hormone or chemotherapy, you may have long-terms effects from the medicines used on those treatments. Ask your doctor how you can improve the quality of your life after treatment.
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How Can I Prevent Prostate Cancer
The best way to try and prevent prostate cancer is to modify the risk factors for prostate cancer that you have control over. Eat a low-fat diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in animal fats. It is always a good idea to maintain a healthy weight, get plenty of exercise and not to smoke or to quit smoking.
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How Prostate Cancer Develops
However, sometimes something goes wrong within prostate cells, and cancer develops.
In general, cancer is a condition in which a normal cell becomes abnormal and starts to grow and/or reproduce uncontrollably without having the signals or brakes that stop typical cell growth. Prostate cancer occurs when a normal prostate cell begins to grow out of control. In many cases, prostate cancer is a slow-growing cancer that does not spread beyond the prostate gland before the time of diagnosis.
Once prostate cancer forms, it feeds on androgens and uses them as fuel for growth. This is why one of the backbones of treatment for men, especially with advanced prostate cancer, is to lower a mans androgen levels with drugs collectively termed hormone therapy.
Not all prostate cancer cells are alike. Prostate cancers that are composed of very abnormal cells are much more likely to both divide quickly and spread, or metastasize, from the prostate to other regions of the body. Often, prostate cancer spreads first to tissues that are near the prostate, including the seminal vesicles and nearby lymph nodes.
Researchers have identified various biological and genetic subtypes of prostate cancer. Although these subtypes are typically not yet used to guide treatment recommendations, they are the subject of active research funded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
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