1 in 6 American men is diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetimes, fortunately the prostate cancer mortality rate is not terrible. The vast majority — almost 100% — of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer are still alive 5 years later.
1 in 36 will die of prostate cancer. As for prostate cancer survival rate, nearly 3 million men in America are living with prostate cancer.
Understanding Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is highly treatable. You will hear over and over again that men die with prostate cancer, not of prostate cancer. You might be shocked to discover how many men you know have had prostate cancer or are living with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer for men worldwide.
We don’t get cancer in a vacuum — most prostate cancer patients have other conditions or disabilities to contend with as well. Other health issues can complicate things, changing how you respond to treatment and what treatments are safe for you.
Many people are successfully treated and undergo periodic prostate cancer treatments for the rest of their lives. It’s not uncommon for prostate cancer patients to live for decades with the disease.
Learning about prostate cancer is one way to help with prevention, early detection, and carefully picking treatment options should you or a loved one ever get the disease.
Prostate Cancer Symptoms
Prostate cancer typically doesn’t cause any symptoms in its early stages. Most men will never experience any symptoms of prostate cancer. Those who do may notice:
- Frequent or burning urination
- Difficulty in having or maintaining an erection
- Pain when ejaculating
- Blood in urine or semen
- Pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs
Those symptoms could have myriad causes, so your doctor will conduct tests before giving you a diagnosis.
Early diagnosis of prostate cancer does not necessarily reduce the chance of dying from prostate cancer. Small, asymptomatic tumors may be developing so slowly that they effectively present no risk.
Some men with prostate cancer may never know about their cancer before they die of natural causes or from another cause. Detecting non-threatening tumors is considered over-diagnosis and treating these non-threatening tumors is over-treatment. Because diagnosis and treatment all carry risks, over-diagnosis and over-treatment can cause problems for men and their loved ones.
The best way to avoid prostate cancer is to detect it early. There are a range of tests that your physician can provide linked below.
Deciding on a treatment regimen
Bring a notebook and take detailed notes when discussing treatment options with your medical team. Don’t be shy about asking them to repeat information or spell a term. You may even want to record the conversations, with their permission. Even incredibly smart people with excellent memories find themselves overwhelmed with information. It’s different when it’s your life they’re talking about. The American Cancer Society has a list of questions you should ask your doctor.
Getting a second or third opinion can seem exhausting, but it’s an excellent way to make sure you’re aware of all of your options and making the best choice for you. Your urologist, oncologist, and GP may all provide you with different information about risk factors and recovery time — they each have a different expertise and talking to all of them about the options gives you the most complete picture.
There are many factors to look at when developing a treatment plan. Doctors who have different opinions aren’t necessarily wrong, because there is rarely one right answer when it comes to treatment.
Do you have to act now?
Prostate cancer typically takes years to develop to the point where it’s detectable. You can take the time you need to make a decision about what treatment to pursue, as a few days or weeks is unlikely to change the outcome.
It can be very upsetting when patients are told to wait a month for an MRI or for treatment to begin. While the waiting can be incredibly stressful, your treatment team knows it’s safe to not rush into action.
If you are elderly or in ill-health, it may be unlikely that prostate cancer will advance to the point where it’s a danger before you die from something else. In this case, you may be able to safely skip the side-effects of radiation and surgery. Instead, your doctors can make sure cancer symptoms don’t impact your quality of life. Cancer can be viewed as a chronic disease that can be managed.
If you have a slow growing cancer that’s been detected early, you may not need to treat your cancer right away. Some men can live with prostate cancer for decades before deciding to treat it. Some men may never need to treat their prostate cancer. Leaving prostate cancer untreated is not a death sentence or an act of suicide. You can talk to your treatment team about treatment options, side effects, and overtreatment and decide what you need to do to live the life you’d like to live.
When prostate cancer is detected before it has spread, it appears that surgery, external radiation, and brachytherapy all have similar cure rates. Newer types of treatment, like da Vinci robotic surgery and proton beam radiation, appear promising but have much less research and long-term data. This makes comparing treatment options as much art as science.
Common Treatments for Prostate Cancer
Every treatment carries certain risks and side effects. Even the most effective treatments overall may not be effective for you. Try to figure out which side effect profile you are most comfortable with. Remember that you and your family are the ones who have to live with the outcome of your treatment, not your doctor.
Prostate cancer patients who opt for active treatment will use a combination of therapies.
Choosing a Treatment Team
Prostate cancer is very common. Any large hospital will have an excellent staff, capable of providing you with top-level prostate cancer treatment.
If you decide to treat your prostate cancer, you will likely use several types of treatment, each with its own specialists. You may also require various experts to help you manage symptoms and treatment side effects.
Screening for prostate cancer
If you have a family history of prostate cancer, you should start getting screened 5 years before the youngest first degree male relative was diagnosed. If there’s a genetic mutation involved, you should start getting screened no later than the age of 40. Genetic counseling is recommended if 3 or more relatives had aggressive prostate cancer or if there is a family history of breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancer. When possible, family members with cancer are tested first.
These are just general guidelines, so you should talk to your primary care physician to determine when is the best time to start screening and discuss a referral to a genetic counselor.
Preventing prostate cancer
Unfortunately, prostate cancer has not been clearly linked to any preventable risk factors. Some cancers have well documented causes, prostate cancer does not. Cancer Research UK has an excellent guide to known and possible factors influencing your risk of developing prostate cancer.
Evidence suggests that maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk of developing prostate cancer.
Eating a plant-based diet providing a range of nutrients and getting regular physical activity can reduce your risk for developing cancer in general, although we don’t know that it can reduce your chance of developing prostate cancer specifically.
Surviving prostate cancer is about more than just treatment and diagnosis. The healthier you are, the better your chances are of beating cancer. Eating nutritious foods can help you manage side effects, reduce fatigue, and maintain your strength. Keep exercising, or start now.
While eating healthy is important, this isn’t the time to dramatically change your eating habits. If you suddenly go vegan or start juicing obsessively you can put yourself at risk for nutritional deficiencies — plus, you’re making your life more complicated during a difficult time.
This is a great time to start introducing small changes to what you eat to make things healthier. Eat a little less meat and a little more veggies. Substitute unhealthy snacks with a homemade version or a healthier option. The Savor Health website has lots of tips on how to do this and our cookbook has 150 recipes for you to try.
This is the time to stop smoking and cut back how much alcohol you drink.
Learn more about using what you eat, and how you eat, to manage your treatment side effects.
Exercise has been linked to an increased survival rate for some cancers, like breast cancer and colorectal cancer. While it hasn’t been specifically studied for prostate cancer, which already has a very high survival rate, evidence suggests it could be helpful. Studies suggest brisk walking has a positive impact on prostate tumors. We know that people who are active have a lower rate of aggressive prostate cancers [iv].
Learn more about how you can safely get fit, and stay fit, as a cancer patient.
CBD oil, or cannabis oil, has become a popular home remedy for treating prostate cancer. Most people who use CBD oil also get traditional treatment for their cancer. Unfortunately, there have not yet been reputable studies on its use as a treatment.
This experimental treatment is only legal if medical marijuana is legal in your state and you follow proper procedures.
It’s important to keep doing the things you enjoy. Make new happy memories. Stay in touch with your close friends. Spend quality time with your family. Remember what you are fighting for; your life is more than just healthcare.
Prostate Cancer Prognosis
You’re very likely to develop prostate cancer, but the survival rate for prostate cancer is very high. Of people who are diagnosed with prostate cancer, this is how many of them are alive in 5, 10, and 15 years:
Even when prostate cancer is incurable, you can live for a very long time with a terminal illness.
People who are diagnosed with prostate cancer that is contained within the prostate or has spread to nearby areas have a 5 year survival rate of nearly 100%. Once the cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes, bones, or other organs, 1 in 3 men will still be alive in 5 years.
Of course, you aren’t 1 in X people, you’re an individual. Statistics can give you an idea of what to expect, but every person’s experience is unique. This is why your doctor may be reluctant to give you a clear idea of how long you have to live, your odds for successful treatment, and what to expect — there’s no way to know for sure what will happen to you.
Cancer treatments are improving all the time. 1 in 3 men diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1975 did not live to see 1980. Your odds are a lot better today.
Other prostate cancer resources
Prostate cancer blogs