Date: Tuesday, March 25, 1997
Contact: National Institutes of Health, NCI Press Office (301)496-6641

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in American men. Between 1973 and 1993, the rate of new cases of prostate cancer rose by 173 percent, due partly to more widespread screening for the disease and partly to the growing number of older men in the U.S. population. It recently has begun to decline. During 1997, there will be about 334,000 new cases of prostate cancer. Nearly 80 percent of these cases will be in men over the age of 65. There will be about 42,000 deaths.

Despite the rise in new cases, death rates for prostate cancer have begun to decrease, down 6.2 percent between 1991 and 1995. The reasons for this decline are unclear.


Radiation. Computer-enhanced imaging techniques have emerged. They help to better focus the beam of radiation onto the tumor, away from healthy tissue.

New Treatment Options. Research has led to more types of treatment for prostate cancer. These include blocking hormones from the prostate that make the cancer grow; destroying a small tumor by freezing it; and using an emerging technique of implanting tiny radioactive pellets directly into the prostate to deliver high doses of radiation to the tumor, without exposing other parts of the body to the treatment.

Quality of Life. Scientists have found new ways to perform surgery for prostate cancer. By sparing the nerves near the prostate, doctors now can remove the prostate and reduce the chances that the surgery will cause other health problems. Penile implants or injections help men deal with impotence that can occur after treatment.


Race. Studies are under way to find out why men of some races are more prone to prostate cancer than others. African American men have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world, while Asian men have the lowest. Solving this mystery could lead to new ways of preventing the disease for all races.

Diagnostics. Current studies will tell us more about whether to screen men for prostate cancer. We will know which men will be helped by having the cancer detected early. The studies also will suggest which treatments will be best for the different stages of the disease.

Drugs. Many studies are under way to evaluate compounds, such as retinoids and finasteride, that could lead to better ways to control or even prevent the disease.

Genetics. Scientists are searching for genes linked to prostate cancer. Once they have identified these genes, researchers can develop tests for those who want to know if they were born with an altered gene that increases their chances of having prostate cancer. Knowledge of the genes will also enable scientists to look inside prostate cells and pinpoint the exact causes of cancer.

Treatment. Improved treatments for prostate cancer have been developed. New studies will determine who will or will not benefit from these treatments. They will also determine which treatments are best in which situations.

Additional Reading

Kirby R.S., et al. Prostate Cancer. Mosby, 1996.

Statistics are from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database (January 1997) and from the American Cancer Society's Cancer Facts and Figures: 1997, which contains estimates based on SEER data.

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