There are nearly 250,000 new cases of prostate cancer in the United States each year. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men (behind lung cancer), but thankfully, most men do not die from prostate cancer.
In fact, more than 3.1 million men alive today have survived a prostate cancer diagnosis.
So, you may be asking yourself–is prostate cancer curable? For many men, the answer is yes.
The prostate is an organ (also called the prostate gland) found in a man’s pelvis below the bladder and in front of the rectum. The prostate is about the size of a walnut, but it often enlarges slowly as a man ages.
Prostate cancer is curable when it is found early and the cancer is contained to the prostate (localized) or to nearby structures (regional), like lymph nodes.
If a man is diagnosed with an advanced prostate cancer, or metastatic prostate cancer, this means the prostate cancer has traveled away from the prostate into distant organs, which may include the bone. While this stage is not considered curable, many of the same treatment options are used to slow prostate cancer growth.
There are many treatments available to cure early-stage prostate cancer.
When someone is diagnosed with prostate cancer, they will typically discuss treatment options with their urologist, medical oncologist, and/or radiation oncologist.
A big factor in deciding what treatment option is best is the stage and grade of the prostate cancer. This refers to how much (or little) the cancer has grown and potentially spread.
When determining the right level of aggressiveness for a treatment, it’s important to determine the type of prostate cancer. Some types are considered high-risk for spreading (or metastasis).
Prostate cancer types are categorized using something called a Gleason score, in which higher scores indicate a more aggressive type of cancer.
Age and overall health can play a role in this decision, as some people may have problems tolerating treatment.
Treatments for prostate cancer can affect quality of life temporarily or permanently, so it’s important to have a thorough conversation with your medical team about this decision.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are several treatment options available when someone is diagnosed with prostate cancer. These treatments options include:
If prostate cancer is found in an early stage and is contained inside the prostate gland, surgery is the most common treatment. This type of surgery is called a radical prostatectomy and can be done in several ways thanks to advances in surgical technology.
Some nearby lymph nodes surrounding the prostate are often removed during surgery so they can show whether prostate cancer has spread outside the prostate gland.
Risks of surgery include bleeding, infection, and blood clots. Urinary incontinence (the inability to hold your bladder) and erectile dysfunction (trouble getting or maintaining an erection) are the two most common side effects of prostate removal surgery.
In addition to surgery, radiation therapy is often used when prostate cancer is found early and is confined to the prostate gland. Studies have shown radiation therapy is just as effective as surgery in curing prostate cancer.
There are two types of radiation: external beam radiation and internal radiation (called brachytherapy).
Male hormones (also called androgens) stimulate prostate cancer cell growth. Testosterone is the most prevalent androgen, and it contributes greatly to the growth of prostate cancer.
This is why reducing testosterone secretion typically causes prostate cancers to shrink or grow more slowly. Hormone therapy for men with prostate cancer involves reducing hormone production or interfering with their function. Hormone therapy alone is not considered a cure but is typically used in most treatment plans.
Since the majority of testosterone is made in the testicles, surgery to remove the testicles (called an orchiectomy) is a form of hormone therapy. This surgery is cost-effective and a permanent treatment.
However, many men aren’t comfortable having their testicles removed. This is why hormone-blocking medication is often used instead.
Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists are medications that reduce how much testosterone is produced by the testicles. LHRH agonists are given as an injection that slowly releases the medication over a period of one to six months depending on the dose.
In addition to blocking the production of testosterone from the testicles, hormone therapy for prostate cancer can include blocking hormone production from the adrenal glands (androgen deprivation therapy).
These drugs are taken orally in pill form once or twice a day. Since these drugs can lower other hormones, a low dose of steroid is given to counteract these effects, most notably fatigue.
Androgen receptor antagonists are another type of hormone therapy for prostate cancer. This class of drugs is designed to disrupt how testosterone works, and they often work alongside other therapies. The side effects of androgen receptor antagonists are similar to LHRH agonists, but men can also experience diarrhea or nausea with these drugs.
Chemotherapy is not typically given if someone has an early-stage prostate cancer, but it’s an available treatment option.
The chemotherapy drugs used to treat prostate cancer are given through a vein in your arm.Your oncologist will monitor your blood counts as well as follow up with you throughout your treatment.
Common side effects of chemotherapy for prostate cancer include:
You are also at an increased risk of infection while you are getting chemotherapy.
Not every man who is diagnosed with prostate cancer decides to pursue treatment beyond observation. This is due to the slow-growing nature of many prostate cancers.
Thankfully the answer to “Is prostate cancer curable?” is yes. But it is only curable when found early.
While the PSA blood test is a common method of prostate cancer screening, more men are looking for better ways to find prostate cancer early. It also helps to understand your prostate cancer risk.