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About the Prostate Cancer Program at Winship Cancer Institute

The prostate cancer program at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, GA offers advanced treatments for prostate cancer patients (including genitourinary cancer) in Georgia and the Southeast.

What is the Prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-sized organ that produces fluid and nutrients for sperm during ejaculation. The gland is located just under the bladder and in front of the rectum, the lower part of the bowel. The urethra, the narrow tube that spans the length of the penis and that carries both urine and semen out of the body, runs through the prostate. The glandular cells of the prostate normally function to produce a fluid that is released into the urethra during ejaculation. This fluid forms part of the seminal fluid, which nourishes the sperm. Secretions from the prostate increase the pH of the semen and help to neutralize the acidity of the female vagina.

The prostate is surrounded by blood and lymphatic vessels:

  • Blood vessels are part of the circulatory system. They supply oxygen and nutrients and remove waste from the cells of the prostate.
  • Lymphatic vessels are part of a large network termed the lymphatic system. These vessels collect and carry fluid and cells from the tissues of the body. Smaller lymphatic vessels merge with larger ones, as streams merge into a river. Large vessels empty into grape-like clusters of lymphatic tissue called lymph nodes. The lymphatic vessels of the prostate carry lymphatic fluid to a mass of lymph nodes located in the pelvic region.

What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the prostate gland, a gland found only in men. Although the prostate is made up of several cell types, almost all prostate cancers develop in the glandular cells. Cancer of gland cells is known as adenocarcinoma.

The prostate's location just in front of the rectum permits examination by a digital rectal exam (DRE). Fortunately, prostate cancer symptoms usually start in the area of the gland that can be felt by a doctor during a DRE, thus leading to early prostate cancer diagnosis. For men over 50, a rectal exam should be a routine part of every physical checkup.

Prostate cancer is now the second most common cancer in men, and skin cancer the first. Prostate cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in men, preceded by lung cancer and colorectal cancer. Although one in six men will get prostate cancer during his lifetime, only one in 32 will die of this disease. In fact, only about one-third of cases identified at autopsy are clinically recognized.

Although experts do not know what causes prostate cancer, they do know a lot about how it behaves. This disease is rare in men under 50 but increases with advancing age. Prostate cancer usually grows very slowly, although in some cases prostate cancer can grow and spread rapidly. However, autopsies show that many elderly men, who died of other diseases, also had prostate cancer that neither they nor their doctors were aware of.

In general, the prostate grows slowly after men reach 40 but may eventually interfere with urination when the prostate grows large enough to compresses the urethra. This enlargement of the prostate is often a noncancerous condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), [link to BPH module].

However, some doctors believe that prostate cancer begins with very small changes in the size and shape of the cells in the prostate gland. Known as prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), these changes are classified as either low grade (almost normal) or high grade (abnormal). Men who have high-grade PIN should be watched carefully as they probably have cancer cells in their prostate.

Facts about Prostate Cancer
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, affecting one in every six men. Only one in 10,000 will be under the age of 40, and risk increases dramatically above the age of 40.

While these numbers are bad, the good news about prostate cancer is that the five-year survival rate has improved. The survival rate—or how long people live after prostate cancer diagnosis—is often used to measure success in prostate cancer treatment.

Since the 1970s, we have seen those living five years after their prostate cancer diagnosis increase from 69 percent to 99 percent (1996–2004 statistics).

Prostate Cancer Risk Factors
The risk of developing prostate cancer can be linked to age, race/ethnicity, and family history of the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, genetic studies suggest that strong familial predisposition may be responsible for 5–10 percent of prostate cancers. There also seems to be a connection between a diet high in animal fat and obesity.

How to Reduce the Risk of Prostate Cancer
Lycopene and antioxidants found in tomatoes and other pink and red foods may reduce prostate cancer risks. Men should consume a diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables. Because these foods tend to be lower in calories, choosing these foods instead of those higher in calories may also to less obesity.

Prostate Cancer Questions and Appointments

Contact us for more information about our prostate cancer treatment programs.