There are nearly a quarter of a million cases of prostate cancer diagnosed annually, making it the second most common type of cancer for men. And while prostate cancer is usually slow growing and mostly harmless, that may no longer be the case. New research has shown a sharp rise in the rate of aggressive and deadly prostate cancer, and men everywhere are at greater risk.
An Increasingly Deadly Cancer
Prior to 2004, only 3% of prostate cancers became aggressive and spread through the body. In the few years since, the rate of metastatic prostate cancer has dramatically increased; nearly doubling for men aged 55-69. This is significant because while the more common, less aggressive forms of prostate cancer can be cured, metastatic prostate cancer is much harder to cure.
Why are there more cases of aggressive prostate cancer? The truth is, nobody knows. Researchers believe the most likely explanation is a combination of the disease becoming more aggressive, and fewer men being screened for prostate cancer.
Though it might sound counter-intuitive, prostate cancer screening has actually been scaled back over the past decade under the rationale that extensive screening does more harm than good. After all, very few men with prostate cancer needed treatment, and treatment usually means surgery or radiation. Unfortunately, the increasingly common rate of aggressive prostate cancers may indicate that reducing screenings was in error.
What Makes Prostate Cancer Aggressive?
While many cancers are slow growing and inert, others rapidly grow and spread throughout the body, which is called aggressive cancer. All cells are part of a spectrum from normal to very abnormal, with some cancer cells being closer to normal and others being very abnormal. Aggressive cancer cells are usually very abnormal. Prostate cancer also tends to be more aggressive in men who have additional health issues. In other words, if you’re not in good health, your body may be less capable of defending itself against the growth of cancer.
Prostate Cancer & Genetic Mutation
In another recent discovery, researchers found that about one in ten men with metastatic prostate cancer also possess inherited genetic mutations. It’s very likely that these mutations aren’t just associated with, but actually cause metastatic prostate cancer. And because they’re mutations, they occur even in people who don’t have a family history of cancer.
Experts suggest that men who suffer from metastatic prostate cancer get genetically tested to see if they possess one of these mutations. If you test positive for a mutated metastatic cancer gene, your family may also be tested to help gauge their risk.
Unfortunately, many men will develop prostate cancer, and in some cases, it will become aggressive. But with early diagnosis, prostate cancer can be treated or monitored to ensure it remains inert. Not everyone with prostate cancer will need radiation or surgery, but by being informed, you can prevent a curable disease from having the opportunity to develop into an incurable one.