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What is Cancer?

Following up from a previous article on “What is the prostate,” is today’s piece called “What is cancer?” In order to have a decent discussion, we need to be able to be clear on what we’re talking about both in disease states and also in management procedures.


First of all, we have to answer, “what is cancer?” Cancer develops when the cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control. Though there are many kinds of cancer, they all start because of the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells. Typically normal cells grow, divide, and die in an orderly fashion. With cancer cells, instead of dying, they outlive normal cells and continue to form new abnormal cells.

When cancer cells enter the bloodstream, or lymph vessels, they travel to other parts of the body where they begin to grow and replace normal tissue. This process is called metastasis. Also bear in mind that prostate cancer that moves to the bone is still called prostate cancer because it began in the prostate.

A peculiar aspect of prostate cancer is the remarkably slow growth that it undergoes. It could take between 2 to 4 years for a prostate that is cancerous to double in size. This would make detection potentially problematic because you don’t see effects of the cancer as quickly.

One of the potential answers for why prostate cancer is detected so slowly is that it’s age related. Typically prostate cancer rarely appears in a man younger than 40 years old, but is identified more often in men about 70 years old. This extraordinary link with age suggests that prostate cancer results from the accumulation of damage to cells over time, perhaps from chemical reactions or other internal or external factors.

In light of all of that, one thing can be made certain. Prostate cancer screening via prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood testing, digital rectal exam (DRE) or a comprehensive biopsy are an integral part to early detection. The sooner we can detect the prostate cancer, or the elevated PSA levels and or abnormal rectal exam, the sooner we can begin treatment and the higher percentage that the cancer can be treated effectively, if not eliminated.

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