Prostate Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Jory Cross by Jory Cross | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men and is the second leading cause of death from cancer in men. Prostate cancer is usually slow growing, and if caught early, before it has spread outside the prostate gland, there is a better chance of successful treatment.

Prostate cancer causes

Researchers have not discovered a cause for prostate cancer, but they have identified certain risk factors that may make you more likely to get the disease:

  • Age: You are more likely to get prostate cancer the older you get.
  • Race: Certain ethnic groups, especially African Americans, are at higher risk.
  • Family history: If someone in your family had prostate cancer, your risk is higher.

In the US, there is a 14% chance that a man will have prostate cancer at some point in his lifetime; however, the five-year-survival rate is almost 99%.

Prostate cancer symptoms

Some men have prostate cancer for a long time before they ever experience any symptoms, and some men show no symptoms at all. However, if you have any of the following signs of prostate cancer, you should discuss them with your doctor:

  • trouble starting to urinate; a weak or interrupted urine stream
  • needing to urinate frequently, especially at night
  • pain, especially a burning sensation, while urinating
  • blood in the urine or semen
  • painful or difficult ejaculation
  • pain in the hips, back, or pelvis that won’t go away

How prostate cancer is diagnosed

Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend a routine blood test (PSA, or prostate-specific antigen) to screen for the disease. Doctors can also test for prostate cancer with a digital rectal exam, or DRE, during which a doctor uses his or her finger to feel the size and texture of the gland itself.

If you have specific prostate cancer symptoms, however, your doctor may recommend diagnostic tests to determine whether prostate cancer is present. These tests include:

  • performing a trans rectal ultrasound to take a “picture” of the prostate gland
  • taking a tissue sample, or biopsy, for microscopic examination

Both of these tests are performed in an outpatient setting and are frequently done at the same time if the ultrasound is suggestive of cancer.

If cancer is present, your doctor will order additional tests to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Your doctor needs this information to develop a treatment plan.

Prostate cancer

In some cases, if the tumor is slow-growing and you aren’t showing symptoms, your doctor may recommend “active surveillance,” or frequent monitoring, to make sure the cancer isn’t progressing; some men never need further treatment for their prostate cancer.

In other cases, depending on the stage of the cancer and the kind that you have, your doctors may recommend:

  • Radiation therapy. This can be either internal, where a radioactive substance is placed directly within or near the prostate itself, or external, using a machine to direct radiation at the prostate.
  • Hormone therapy. Patients are given medications to stop the production of hormones (such as testosterone) that the cancer needs to grow.
  • Surgical treatment. Sometimes, a prostatectomy, or removal of the prostate itself, is the best course of action.

Medicare coverage of prostate cancer

Treatment for prostate cancer you receive in the hospital as an inpatient is covered under Medicare Part A, while your Part B benefits cover doctor visits, tests, and other outpatient treatment or services you may receive. You are responsible for your Part A and Part B deductibles and any coinsurance amounts.

Medicare covers certain screenings for prostate cancer. You may also be eligible for one prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and/or a digital rectal exam per year. You’re covered for both tests if you’re a male over age 50 with Part B, starting the day after your 50th birthday.

When it comes to the digital rectal exam, you’ll pay 20% of the Medicare-approved cost for the test and any related physician services, after you’ve reached the Part B deductible. If you get the test in a hospital outpatient setting, you pay a copayment.

The PSA test is free if you get it from a doctor that accepts Medicare assignment. However, you may have to pay an extra cost for related physician services related to the screening.

If you receive your Medicare benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan, you’re covered for the same preventive, diagnostic, and treatment benefits of prostate cancer that you’d have under Original Medicare, Part A and Part B.

If you are concerned about your risk for prostate cancer or have recently been diagnosed with the disease, I am available to help you understand your benefits under Medicare and find plan options that may meet your needs. If you’d like to schedule a phone call or request an email with personalized information just for you, click the appropriate button below. To find out more about plans in your area you may qualify for, click the Compare Plans button. To learn more about me, click the “View profile” link below.

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