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How Does Prostate Cancer Affect the Body?

author image Sharon Perkins
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.
How Does Prostate Cancer Affect the Body?
Doctor explaining to patient how prostate cancer affects the body. Photo Credit: Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

Prostate cancer affects around 219,000 men over age 50 in the United States each year, with a lifetime risk of one in six developing the disease, according to 2007 information provided by the Merck Manual. Incidence increases with age, with prostate cancer found in 15 to 60 percent of men between the ages of 60 and 90. Around 27,000 men die from prostate cancer each year. Effects from prostate cancer occur from the cancer itself, from medication, surgery and other treatments.

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Cancer Effects

Prostate cancer causes prostate enlargement. Prostate enlargement affects urination because the prostate wraps around the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. The enlargement causes urinary incontinence, difficulty controlling the urine stream, dribbling, hesitation, pain with ejaculation and urination, and blood in the urine, along with frequent nocturnal urination. Pain in the abdomen, back or bones, anemia, a low red blood count, weight loss and lethargy may also occur, MedlinePlus explains.

Surgical Effects

One treatment for prostate cancer is surgical removal of the prostate or surgical destruction of the cancer cells. Side effects from surgery can be temporary or permanent. A number of surgical techniques are available. Cryosurgery, rapid freezing and thawing of the cancer cells, causes nerve damage that leads to impotence 85 percent of the time, reports. Temporary incontinence affects many men after radical surgery, while impotence affects 45 to 60 percent.

Medication Effects

Medications that decrease the levels of testosterone can decrease prostate cancer’s growth and spread, MedlinePlus states. Medications are given by injection for three to six months. Side effects include bone loss, nausea, vomiting, hot flashes and impotence. Breast enlargement and liver problems can also occur. Side effects are normally reversible after the medications are stopped.

Radiation Effects

Radiation also causes side effects that may be temporary or permanent. Typical effects include diarrhea, redness or tenderness of the skin, pelvic hair loss and painful urination. Impotence may also occur. Bowel and bladder problems may occur as long as one to three years after radiation, according to Brachytherapy, the placement of radioactive pellets near the tumor, can cause urinary symptoms such as urinary retention, frequency and urgency, which generally improve over time; a decrease in erectile function; and bowel problems.

Metastasis Effects

Metastasis to the bone can cause stiffness or pain in the lower back, hips and thighs. If cancer cells spread to the lymph nodes, they can affect any part of he body.

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