Is It Prostatitis or Prostate Cancer?
Inflammation and swelling of the prostate, also known as prostatitis, is a relatively common ailment that affects roughly 1 in every 8 men. Although highly treatable, it often imitates the symptoms of prostate cancer, putting you at an increased risk for emotional and mental anguish.
It's important to note that prostatitis is benign and does not increase your risk of cancer. So before you get worked up about what may or may not be prostate cancer, discover the symptoms of each condition and the proper way to reach a diagnosis.
Similar symptoms, different ailments
Prostatitis has a number of symptoms that are similar to those of prostate cancer. Most commonly, prostatitis symptoms include difficulty urinating and a burning sensation when doing so. However, you may also have blood in the urine, pain in the lower abdominal area or problems with erectile dysfunction (ED). All of these symptoms are also found in prostate cancer patients, making a self-diagnosis nearly impossible. You need the expertise of a medical professional.
How to tell the difference between prostatitis and prostate cancer
The only surefire way to know whether you have prostate cancer or prostatitis is by visiting your doctor. But you may have some hints about which condition you have based on your age. Prostatitis is most common in men younger than age 50, while prostate cancer is more prevalent in men older than 50. This isn't a foolproof guideline, of course, but it may give you a basis to judge whether you're suffering from one or the other.
If you're experiencing symptoms of either condition, you should meet with your doctor. If the physician suspects either one of these conditions, they will conduct a digital rectal exam (DRE). The doctor will inspect the prostate with their lubricated, gloved finger. Prostatitis is characterized by an enlarged, tender and irregularly shaped prostate. Prostate cancer, on the other hand, may be indicated by lumps or firmness in the prostate.
A doctor may also suggest that you undergo a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. PSA is a protein produced by both cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate. Men with prostatitis or prostate cancer typically have elevated levels of PSA in their blood. However, a high PSA level doesn't necessarily mean you have one or the other; these tests may cause an inaccurate diagnosis.
An ultrasound, urine and prostate fluid tests, a cystoscopy and urine flow studies also may be used to diagnose prostatitis.
Causes and treatment options for prostatitis and prostate cancer
The causes of prostatitis are most commonly a bacterial infection or nerve damage, but in some instances, the underlying cause is unknown. Prostatitis is a group of conditions that include acute and chronic bacterial prostatitis, chronic pelvic pain syndrome and asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis.
Bacterial prostatitis and treatment
In bacterial prostatitis, the prostate and urinary tract become infected with bacteria, which can occur when bacteria from the urinary tract leak into the prostate gland or through unprotected sex. Acute bacterial prostatitis is a one-time instance of prostatitis that's usually accompanied by a urinary tract infection (UTI). However, this may make you prone to more infections, resulting in chronic bacterial prostatitis.
Doctors typically prescribe antibiotics to treat these types of prostatitis, although symptoms can sometimes resolve on their own. A doctor may also suggest over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines to curb pain or discomfort.
Prostatitis from nerve damage
Trauma to the nerves in the lower urinary tract may also cause prostatitis, although this is much more difficult to diagnose. If your doctor suspects this is the cause of your prostatitis, they'll usually prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or suggest over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen. As with bacterial prostatitis, the symptoms may clear up on their own.
Prostate cancer and treatment
The incidence of prostate cancer is much higher in men with a family history of prostate cancer. Diagnosis includes a digital rectal exam or PSA test. Unfortunately, neither a PSA test or a DRE may provide enough information for a conclusive diagnosis of prostate cancer, and your doctor may recommend a prostate biopsy to collect and test tissue samples.
If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, treatment options include the removal of the prostate, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy and cryotherapy. The good news is that these are all highly effective treatments: the five-year relative survival rate of prostate cancer patients is 98 percent for all stages combined.
Don't stress; both are highly treatable
Whether you get a diagnosis for prostatitis or prostate cancer, don't stress yourself to death. Both diseases are highly treatable and shouldn't be the source of panic. As with any other condition, consult your doctor for diagnosis and proper treatment so you can eliminate discomfort and enjoy life with a happy, healthy prostate.