The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system that produces the majority of fluid that makes up the semen, the thick fluid that carries sperm. The walnut-sized gland is located beneath a man's bladder and surrounds the upper part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. Prostate function is regulated by testosterone, a male sex hormone produced mainly in the testicles.
Prostate cancer is a major health concern for American men. Although the disease is rare before age 50, experts believe that most elderly men have at least traces of it.
More than 217,000 new cases and about 32,000 deaths are attributed to prostate cancer each year in the U.S. For reasons not fully understood, African-American men have the highest frequency of prostate cancer in the world and the highest death rate from the disease. In other parts of the world -- notably Asia, Africa, and Latin America -- prostate cancer is rare.
Prostate cancer cells do not follow normal patterns and grow uncontrollably and spread to other tissues. Prostate cancer is typically a very slow growing tumor, often causing no symptoms until advanced stages. Most men with prostate cancer die of other causes -- many without ever realizing that they have the disease. But once prostate cancer begins to grow more rapidly or spreads outside the prostate, it is dangerous. This aggressive type of prostate cancer can occur at any age. Although the disease tends to progress slowly, it is generally fatal if it spreads beyond the prostate gland itself.
Prostate cancer in its early stages (confined to the prostate gland) can be cured. Fortunately, about 85% of American men with prostate cancer are diagnosed in the early stages.
Cancer that has spread beyond the prostate to distant tissues (such as the bones, lymph nodes, and lungs) is not curable, but it often can be controlled for many years. Because of the many advances in available treatments, the majority of men whose prostate cancer becomes widespread can expect to live five years or more.
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