What is stage 1 prostate cancer?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Stage 1 prostate cancer is confined to the prostate and cannot be detected with a physical examination or seen on an imaging test. The prostate is a small organ normally the size of a walnut that functions as part of the male reproductive system, producing and transporting semen.

Stage 1 prostate cancer is part of the second most common cancer type after skin cancer. Prostate cancer is also the second-highest cause of death among men suffering from cancer. Since the development of prostate-specific antigen testing in the late 1980s, detection of early stages of prostate cancer has risen markedly. Of the 2,276,112 men with a history of prostate cancer in the United States in 2007, 80 percent were at a stage (such as stage 1) in which the disease was still located within the prostate and hadn't spread to other parts of the body.

Stage 1 prostate cancer is generally detected and diagnosed through routine screening or by accident. Because the size of the cancer at stage 1 is generally microscopic and undetectable to either physical examination or through ultrasound, it is usually only found through a blood test called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. It can also be discovered in the course of an unrelated surgical procedure. Although it is possible to detect and diagnose stage 1 prostate cancer, the practice remains controversial, as early detection of prostate cancer is not necessarily linked to higher survival rates.

Effects of stage 1 prostate cancer are primarily seen in the male urinary and reproductive systems. Urinary problems can include difficulty starting and stopping urination or a weakened urine stream, feeling the need to urinate more than usual, blood in the urine, or a burning sensation during urination. Reproductive symptoms include difficulty achieving an erection or blood in the semen. Stage 1 prostate cancer can also cause pain in the bones and muscles of the pelvic area such as the hips, thighs, and lower back, as well as swollen legs. However, these symptoms are exceedingly rare for stage 1, which normally goes unnoticed and undetected.

With the right medical attention, the outlook for stage 1 prostate cancer is actually not as serious as might first be assumed. If prostate cancer is caught before it has a chance to spread to other parts of the body, long-term survival rates are extremely favorable, with a 5-year relative survival rate of 100 percent, and most people with the disease living as long as their healthy counterparts. This is due in part to the fact that the disease is often not detected until late in life. With stage 1 of the disease, it's not uncommon for symptoms to have yet to materialize, in which case your doctor may not even want to treat the disease right away.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.