There is a mixture of encouraging and challenging aspects of understanding symptoms of prostate cancer.
On a challenging note: There typically are no symptoms associated with early-stage prostate cancer — meaning you could have it for years before you know anything is wrong.
In fact, cancers of the prostate, breast, ovaries, pancreas and certain other parts of the body are known as “silent cancers” because they lack early symptoms. Any actual symptoms you experience means your cancer is likely advanced and has grown or spread beyond the prostate. It’s when a tumor causes the prostate to swell and be blocked that symptoms present.
The encouraging news? Most people get diagnosed when prostate cancer is in its early stages, when it’s easiest to treat. And the five-year survival rate is very good — better than 99% when there is no sign that the tumor has spread outside the prostate, according to the American Cancer Society.
What’s more, prostate cancer tends to be very slow-growing, leaving time for patients and their providers to weigh different options — or in some cases, choose active surveillance rather than a physical intervention.
There are several non-cancerous conditions that affect the prostate that share some of the same symptoms that follow, and we’ll get to those.
Symptoms of advanced prostate cancer
There are a number of symptoms that can present when prostate cancer has grown and has either caused your prostate to swell or spread beyond the prostate:
- Problems urinating, such as pain, a burning sensation or difficulty starting or stopping
- Leaking urine when you laugh or cough
- Inability to pee from a standing position
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Difficulty emptying the bladder
- Blood in urine or semen
- Painful ejaculation
- Difficulty getting an erection
- Pressure or pain in the rectum
Other symptoms may indicate the cancer has spread to other parts of the body:
- Persistent pain in the back, hips, rectum or pelvis
- Pain in the back, ribs, chest or other areas where the tumor has spread to the bones
- Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet
- Loss of bladder or bowel control from the cancer pressing against the spinal cord
Finally, there are certain symptoms that arise when prostate cancer is in an advanced stage. They include a sudden loss of weight and appetite; fatigue, nausea and vomiting; and swelling of the lower limbs.
It might not be prostate cancer
As we mentioned, there are some conditions that aren’t cancer that exhibit some of the same symptoms outlined above.
- Prostatitis – an inflammation of the prostate often caused by a bacterial infection. Prostatitis often causes problems with urinating or ejaculating, among other things.
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia – better known as an enlarged prostate, this condition is common among men after age 60. While not all men who have an enlarged prostate exhibit symptoms, they typically include problems urinating.
- Bladder infection – usually caused by bacteria, with symptoms including a burning sensation when urinating and frequent urges to urinate.
- Erectile dysfunction – also known as impotence.
- Urinary tract infection – symptoms are similar to a bladder infection but may also include pain in your side or lower back.
As one of the “silent cancers,” prostate cancer can be tricky to detect. It underscores the importance of getting regular screenings. Starting at age 40, you should talk with your doctor about your risk profile and getting screened.