Men with prostate cancer sometimes experience no symptoms, and tumors can grow so slowly that they never cause problems. However, without early detection, more aggressive forms of the disease can be difficult to treat effectively and can be fatal. In fact, about 27,000 men in the United States die from prostate cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
For this reason, the ACS recommends that physicians offer their male patients digital rectal exams and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests beginning at age 50, or at age 40 or 45 if they fall into high-risk groups. Blood levels of PSA, an enzyme produced by prostate gland cells, generally rise in men with prostate cancer.
When prostate cancer does cause symptoms, these may include problems with urination and erectile function, painful or burning urination or ejaculation, blood in urine or semen, or frequent pain or stiffness in hips, lower back, or upper thighs.
As with other cancers, the only way to know for sure is with a biopsy—a procedure in which a sample of the tumor is sent to the lab to be examined under a microscope.