Latent prostate cancer, also known as indolent prostate cancer, can be small areas of prostate cancer in which the majority do not develop into significant disease. They do not cause symptoms, and seldom require therapy.
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No precise definition is available, but insignificant or latent cancer is generally when prostate cancer doesn't progress far enough to cause problems or become life-threatening. It remains undetected and unsuspected unless found during screening or a prostate procedure for some other reason, such as a transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) for the urinary symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Prostate cancer is fairly unique in the seemingly large prevalence of this form of the disease.
There are a few autopsy studies that report a prevalence of prostate cancer that was unsuspected. They generally report surprisingly high rates. These studies give a clue as to the amount of latent or unsuspected prostate cancer. As it turns out, detected cases may be only the tip of the iceberg. For example, a review of 249 autopsies of men from Detroit reported unsuspected prostate cancer in about one-third of men in their 30s and 40s, over one-half in their 50s, and nearly two-thirds of men in their 60s.