Prostate Cancer vs BPH: What’s the Difference and How are Both Treated ?

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Both prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) affect the prostate gland. The prostate gland becomes larger with both prostate cancer and BPH. BPH, however, is benign and therefore means it won’t spread since it’s not cancer. But, prostate cancer does spread to various areas of your body. Both prostate cancer and BPH are common.

A man’s prostate sits above their bladder and is a walnut-sized gland. It wraps around their urethra and produces their semen’s fluid. The urethra is the tube transporting urine out of your body from the bladder.

Signs and Symptoms of Prostate Cancer vs. Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

Prostate cancer and BPH share some similar symptoms; therefore, it can be difficult to distinguish the two. An enlarged prostate squeezes your urethra as it grows and prevents your urine from passing down your urethra and leaving your body as effectively as a normal-sized prostate. You usually won’t experience any symptoms with prostate cancer until it grows big enough to place pressure on your urethra.

Symptoms of both prostate cancer and BPH may include:

  • Having an urge to urinate several times a day and during the night.
  • Dribbling or weak urine stream.
  • Having difficulty beginning urination or needing to push to release it.
  • Having the flow of your urine stop and start.
  • Having the constant feeling your bladder isn’t completely empty.

With prostate cancer, you may notice some additional symptoms such as:

  • Blood in your urine.
  • Burning or pain while urinating.
  • Painful ejaculation.
  • Difficulty achieving erection.
  • Blood in your semen.
  • Less fluid while ejaculating.
  • Lower abdominal pain.

Differences Between Prostate Cancer vs. BPH

There are some differences between the two conditions such as:

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer, like skin cancer, is the most common type of cancer in men in the U.S. In fact, according to estimates by the American Cancer Society for 2018 for American men:

  • Around 164,690 new prostate cancers will pop up.
  • Around 29,430 deaths will occur due to prostate cancer.

When compared with other types of cancer, prostate cancer is slow growing. Changes in cells may start anywhere from 10 to 30 years before you even get a tumor large enough to result in symptoms. Gradually, the cancer cells may begin spreading throughout your body and the cancer might already be in its advanced stages by the time you experience any symptoms. Not many men experience symptoms before they turn 50 years old, although they’ll likely have precancerous or cancer cells. Most men don’t die from prostate cancer.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia  

BPH is a common problem in men who are over 50 years old. Around 14 million men in 2010 in the U.S. experienced symptoms of their lower urinary tract suggesting they had BPH, reports the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). While men typically don’t experience symptoms of BPH before the age of 40, symptoms tend to increase with age.

BPH doesn’t mean you have prostate cancer or that you’re more likely to get it. Physicians don’t know the exact cause, but some suspect it has something to do with age-related hormonal changes.

Treatments for Prostate Cancer vs. BPH

Getting an early evaluation will increase your chances of early cancer detection and being cured. This is particularly important if you’re at a high risk for cancer. Prostate cancer treatment is different than BPH treatment.

BPH Treatment

The BPH treatment you receive will depend on a couple factors such as the severity of your symptoms and the size of your prostate.

If you’re experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, a couple medications your doctor may prescribe are:

  • 5-alpha reductase inhibitors which help to shrink your prostate
  • Alpha blockers to relax prostate and bladder muscles so you can urinate more easily

Your physician may recommend surgery if your BPH symptoms are more severe.

Prostate Cancer Treatment

Treatments for prostate cancer include:

  • Watchful waiting or active surveillance — your doctor won’t treat you right away but will instead watch your symptoms. They may perform routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and digital rectal exam (DRE) tests to see if your cancer is growing.
  • Surgery known as radical prostatectomy — your doctor removes your prostate gland and surrounding tissue.
  • Cryotherapy — your doctor destroys prostate tissue using extreme cold.
  • Radiation therapy — your doctor destroys your prostate cancer using high-energy x-rays.
  • Hormone therapy — your doctor gives you medication to block certain hormones that promote prostate cancer growth.

Specialists to Visit for BPH and Prostate Cancer

Generally, with BPH, your primary care physician will be your first point of contact. You may require a urologist referral for symptom control through an invasive procedure, but normally doctors can manage BPH effectively in an ambulatory setting.

With prostate cancer, treatment typically requires a medical specialist such as a:

  • Urologist
  • Radiation oncologist
  • Medical oncologist

If you’ve received a BPH or prostate cancer diagnosis already, routine follow-ups are essential. While regular screening for prostate cancer isn’t recommended, your doctor may wish to perform PSA or DRE testing depending on your risks and age.


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