What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is cancer of the prostate gland. Cancer is when abnormal cells start to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way. The cells can grow into surrounding tissues or organs, and may spread to other areas of the body.

The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. 

The video below explains what prostate cancer is. It lasts for nearly 2 and a half minutes. 

What is the prostate gland?

The prostate is a gland at the base of the bladder. It is about the size of a walnut but gets bigger as men get older.

The prostate surrounds the first part of the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the penis. This tube is called urethra. The urethra also carries semen, which is the fluid containing sperm.

The prostate gland produces a protein called prostate specific antigen (PSA). A blood test can measure the level of PSA.

Diagram showing the position of the prostate and rectum

The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. The video below shows the different parts of the male reproductive system. It lasts for 1 minute and 40 seconds. 

Where does prostate cancer start?

Most prostate cancers start in the outer gland cells of the prostate and are known as acinar adenocarcinomas. Many of these cancers grow extremely slowly and are not likely to spread. But some can grow more quickly.

What is localised, locally advanced and metastatic prostate cancer?

Doctors often describe prostate cancer as localised, locally advanced and metastatic. 

Localised prostate cancer is cancer that is only inside the prostate gland. It has not spread to other parts of the body.

Locally advanced prostate cancer means the cancer has broken through the capsule (covering) of the prostate gland. It has spread to nearby tissues, such as the back passage (rectum). 

Metastatic prostate cancer means that the cancer has spread to another part of your body such as the bones. It is also sometimes called advanced prostate cancer. 

Who gets prostate cancer?

You need a prostate gland to get prostate cancer. So it mostly affects men. Trans women and non-binary people who are born male (assigned male at birth) can also get prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is most common in older men. On average each year 35 out of 100 (35%) new cases are in men aged 75 and over. 

It is more common in Black men than in White men. It is less common in Asian men. A man’s risk of developing prostate cancer depends on many factors. These include:

  • age
  • genetics and family history
  • lifestyle factors
  • other medical conditions

How common is prostate cancer?

Around 52,300 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK each year. In men, it is the most common cancer in the UK. 

The number of people diagnosed with prostate cancer has increased over the last 10 years. This might be because more people are having PSA tests and the population is getting older.

  • Cancer Incidence from Cancer Intelligence Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK  (2016 - 2018 UK average) 
    Accessed April 2022

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

  • Differences in cancer incidence by broad ethnic group in England, 2013–2017
    C Delon and others
    British Journal of Cancer, 2022. Published online March 2022.

  • Prostate cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2019. Last updated December 2021

Last reviewed: 
24 May 2019
Next review due: 
24 May 2022

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