Prostate cancer symptoms are mostly similar with those of other prostate conditions, particularly benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). Although there are cases where they do not appear, particularly if the disease is in its earliest stage, some men do experience some symptoms. The most usual signs include a need to urinate frequently especially at night, difficulty in starting or holding back urine, pain or burning during urination, pain or discomfort during ejaculation, blood in the urine or semen and difficulty in having an erection.
If a man experiences any of the common prostate cancer symptoms, the next logical step would be to consult a doctor and undergo some tests to determine whether they are caused by cancer or other conditions. The first line of diagnosis in prostate conditions are prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE). The PSA test is a method that measures the level of PSA in the blood. DRE, on the other hand, is primarily used to determine any irregularity in the shape, size and texture of the prostate.
Although PSA and DRE have been widely used, both of these methods are not 100 percent accurate. For one, the level of PSA in a man’s blood can be caused by other reasons. These reasons could be BPH, prostatitis or even the use of medications for baldness. Medications like finasteride and dutasteride can cause the PSA level to decrease by 50 percent, providing an inaccurate result that could lead to wrong diagnosis.
In cases when prostate cancer is suspected (after employing DRE and PSA), a more invasive technique is then used. Among the many diagnostic methods available now, biopsy is the only test that can confirm whether cancer is really present. Biopsy involves obtaining tissue samples from the prostate to get them examined under the microscope.
One of the important aspects of evaluating the microscopic features of prostate cells is to determine the stage of the cancer. Staging is done to determine whether the cancer is still confined to the prostate or has spread or metastasized to other parts of the body. The most common staging system used in cancer is the TNM. This system focuses on the size of the tumor, the number of involved lymph nodes and the presence of metastases.
TNM classifies prostate cancer as T1, T2, T3 or T4. The first two are used when the cancer is found only in the prostate while the last two are used to classify conditions wherein the cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland. If the cancer has already spread, computed tomography can then be used to evaluate the metastasis within the pelvis. Bone scans can also be employed to examine possible spread to the bones and endorectal coil magnetic resonance imaging to examine the prostatic capsule and the seminal vesicles.
Identifying prostate cancer symptoms is the first step towards knowing whether cancer is already present. Physicians have advised, though, that diagnostic methods should be used only if there is any suspicion of cancer or other disorders.