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Cancer begins when normal cells in the prostate begin to change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body).
Prostate cancer is a malignant tumor that begins in the prostate gland of men. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located behind the base of the penis, in front of the rectum, and below the bladder. It surrounds the urethra, the tube-like channel that carries urine and semen through the penis. The prostate's main function is to produce seminal fluid, the liquid in semen that protects, supports, and helps transport sperm.
Some prostate cancers grow very slowly and may not cause symptoms or problems for years. In this situation, the cause of death is usually not from prostate cancer, but other causes. However, if cancer does metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body, it can cause pain, fatigue, and other symptoms. Prostate cancer is somewhat unusual, compared with other types of cancer, in that many tumors that are diagnosed do not spread from the prostate. And often, even metastatic prostate cancer can be successfully treated, with the person surviving in good health for some years.
More than 95% of prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas, cancer that develops in glandular tissue. A rare type of prostate cancer known as neuroendocrine cancer or small cell anaplastic cancer tends to spread earlier, but usually does not produce prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a tumor marker discussed later in this section. Read more about neuroendocrine tumors.
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