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Prostate Cancer Screening (PDQ®)

General Information About Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the prostate.

The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system located just below the bladder (the organ that collects and empties urine) and in front of the rectum (the lower part of the intestine). It is about the size of a walnut and surrounds part of the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder). The prostate gland produces fluid that makes up part of semen.

Anatomy of the  male reproductive and urinary systems; drawing shows front and side views of ureters, lymph nodes, rectum, bladder, prostate gland, vas deferens,  penis, testicles, urethra, seminal vesicle, and ejaculatory duct.

Anatomy of the male reproductive and urinary systems, showing the prostate, testicles, bladder, and other organs.

As men age, the prostate may get bigger. A bigger prostate may block the flow of urine from the bladder and cause problems with sexual function. This condition is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), and although it is not cancer, surgery may be needed to correct it. The symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia or of other problems in the prostate may be similar to symptoms of prostate cancer.

Two-panel drawing shows normal male reproductive and urinary anatomy and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Panel on the left shows the normal prostate and flow of urine from the bladder through the urethra. Panel on the right shows an enlarged prostate pressing on the bladder and urethra, blocking the flow of urine.

Normal prostate and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). A normal prostate does not block the flow of urine from the bladder. An enlarged prostate presses on the bladder and urethra and blocks the flow of urine.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information about prostate cancer:

Prostate cancer is the most common nonskin cancer among men in the United States.

Prostate cancer is found mainly in older men. Although the number of men with prostate cancer is large, most men diagnosed with this disease do not die from it. Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men than in white men. African-American men with prostate cancer are more likely to die from the disease than white men with prostate cancer.

Age, race, and family history of prostate cancer can affect the risk of developing prostate cancer.

Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Risk factors for prostate cancer include the following:

  • Being 50 years of age or older.
  • Being black.
  • Having a brother, son, or father who had prostate cancer.
  • Eating a diet high in fat or drinking alcoholic beverages.

Date last modified: 2014-07-02

Date last modified: 2014-07-02

Date last modified: 2014-07-02

Changes to This Summary (07/02/2014)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Editorial changes were made to this summary.

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Date last modified: 2014-07-02

Last updated: 2014-07-16

Source: The National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query (PDQ®) Cancer Information Summaries (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq)