Prostate Cancer - Treatment

A number of treatments are available for prostate cancer. The treatment chosen depends on the patient's age and general health, the stage of the tumor, the presence of other illnesses, and other factors.

The two most common forms of treatment for early prostate cancer are surgery and radiation. Surgery involves the removal of the prostate gland. In addition, a sample of the lymph nodes near the prostate is removed. This sample is then tested to see whether the cancer has spread.

Removal of the prostate also involves removal of the seminal vesicles that lie next to it. The seminal vesicles are the organs that make semen. Since they are usually removed along with the prostate, the patient usually becomes sterile as a result of the operation.

Radiation involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. In most cases, the radiation comes from radioactive materials. Radioactive materials are substances that give off high-energy radiation, similar to X rays. The radiation can be given either externally or internally. If it is given externally, the radioactive source is placed above the patient's body in the area of the cancer. Radiation from the source penetrates the body and destroys cancer cells. Radiation can also be given internally by implanting the source in the patient's body.

For more advanced cases of prostate cancer, hormone therapy may be necessary. Prostate cells need the male hormone testosterone to grow. One way to stop the growth of prostate cells, then, is to reduce the amount of testosterone in the body. One way to do that is to surgically remove the patient's testicles. The testicles are the organ that produces testosterone. Another way to achieve the same goal is to give the patient a medication that reacts with testosterone. The medication "cancels out" the testosterone produced by the body.

Finally, the patient may be given a female hormone, such as estrogen. The estrogen makes the body stop producing testosterone. This treatment has some undesirable side effects, however. For example, a man may have "hot flashes," have enlarged and tender breasts, and lose sexual desire.

Chemotherapy may be used if the cancer has metastasized (pronounced muh-TASS-tuh-sized). Chemotherapy involves the use of chemicals that kill cancer cells. These chemicals can be given either orally (by mouth) or intravenously (into the bloodstream). The chemicals spread throughout the patient's body and attack cancer cells wherever they occur. Chemotherapy is sometimes used to treat prostate cancer that has recurred after other treatments.

A final form of treatment is no treatment at all. Prostate cancers sometimes develop very slowly. It may take years for them to become a serious threat to the patient's life. That fact is considered in treating older men. In many cases, the man is likely to die of other causes before prostate cancer becomes a serious concern. The approach in such cases is called "watchful waiting." The patient receives regular checkups. If no major change is found, no treatment is offered. If the tumor becomes significantly larger, one of the above forms of treatment is used.

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