According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the American male population.
This year alone, we will see about 174,650 new cases of prostate cancer in the U.S. Additionally, one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life.
However, there’s a reason for hope. The good news is the prostate cancer survival rate is actually quite high and to date, there are about 3 million prostate cancer survivors living in the U.S.
The survival rate for all cancer is measured as a percentage. This percentage is based on a five-year relative survival rate calculated by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database.
A 5-year survival rate tells you the percent of individuals who live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with a certain type of cancer.
As far as prostate cancer survival rates, if you combine all SEER stages (localized, regional, and distant) the five-year relative survival rate is 98%.
This means if you looked at 100 men diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, 98 of them will still be alive in five years (or if they are deceased, prostate cancer isn’t the cause).
If you break down the relative survival rate by SEER stage, men with local or regional prostate cancer have a five-year survival rate of nearly 100%. For men categorized with distant spread, the five-year survival rate drops much lower to 30%.
The stark difference in survival rates between early-stage prostate cancer and prostate cancer that has spread shows how early detection offers a true advantage for treatment.
When looking at prostate cancer survival rates, the American Cancer Society relies on information maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The NCI gathers their information and patient statistics from the SEER database.
The SEER database keeps track of how many people are diagnosed with cancer, how many people successfully cure their cancer, and how many people die from their cancer.
The information collected regarding the type of cancer is categorized by how much cancer has spread, either localized, regional, or distant.
This system of prostate cancer categorization is slightly different from the tumor, lymph node, and metastasis (TNM) staging system created by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) commonly used by oncologists.
This staging system looks at the extent of the tumor, whether it has spread to lymph nodes, and if it has spread to other parts of the body.
Localized prostate cancer refers to cancer cells within the prostate gland. Localized prostate cancer is often considered early stage.
Prostate cancer is at a regional stage when cancer cells have been found in nearby structures (like the bladder) or nearby lymph nodes found in the pelvis.
When prostate cancer has spread to a “distant” organ or area, it’s considered distant prostate cancer. For example, prostate cancer cells found in the lungs, liver, or bones are considered distant prostate cancer. Another term for distant is metastatic prostate cancer or advanced prostate cancer.
Another defining characteristic of distant prostate cancer is it technically cannot be cured, meaning a man diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer will always have prostate cancer. This doesn’t mean they will die from their prostate cancer, but they will always have to monitor and potentially treat their cancer.
While SEER staging is important to predicting cancer-related outcomes, it’s not the only thing that predicts prostate cancer survival rates.
A man’s age and overall health also play a role in how well they will tolerate and recover from treatment.
Another factor that is not considered when calculating a relative survival rate is the type of prostate cancer cells. Prostate cancers are divided into certain grades based on how aggressive the cancer cells are. This grade, or score, is called a Gleason score and is determined after a prostate tissue biopsy has been performed.
The Gleason score consists of two scores, or grades, from two different areas of the prostate, typically areas that have the most cancer cells involved. The grades fall on a scale from 1-5, with 1 meaning the cells look like normal prostate cells and 5 meaning the cells look very abnormal.
Once a grade has been made for each of the two biopsy areas, they are added together for the final score that ranges between 2-10.
Prostate cancers are considered aggressive if they’re a Gleason 7 or higher.
For example, let’s say a man has a prostate biopsy of two areas. One area has fairly normal-looking cells, and a pathologist determines it has a score of 2. The second area has slightly more abnormal cells and falls into a score of 4. The total Gleason score would 6 (2+4=6). Since it is less than 7, the prostate cancer wouldn’t be considered aggressive.
A man’s PSA level (prostate-specific antigen) is also considered when determining their stage and what treatment route to choose.
Several risk factors can contribute to your likelihood of developing prostate cancer and affect the prognosis of a prostate cancer patient.
Age is the biggest risk factor: The disease’s average age of diagnosis is 66, with rare cases found in men younger than 40.
Family history as well as genetic factors (potentially including BRCA mutations) both contribute to a man’s risk for developing prostate cancer.
The risk for developing prostate cancer is about the same in caucasian and African American men, but African American men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer.
Thankfully, research has come a long way when it comes to prostate cancer treatments. A more conservative option is active surveillance, in which PSA evaluations and other tests monitor the growth of prostate cancer.
Surgery, including radical prostatectomy (removal of the prostate), is another treatment commonly chosen to treat localized or regional prostate cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy are also treatment options.
Nearly all treatments have side effects. Deciding what treatment is best is a decision made together with the oncology or urology team. Evaluating cancer statistics as well as the stage of prostate cancer all guide decision-making.
Finding prostate cancer early is key to staying healthy after a cancer diagnosis. The prostate cancer survival rate is nearly 100% when found early.
Get your Ezra Full Body MRI Scan — it only takes one hour and it screens for potential early cancer and early disease in up to 13 organs, including the prostate.