Prostate Cancer and Palliative Care

Understanding Prostate Cancer

The prostate is a gland that men have inside their lower abdomen. It sits below the bladder and in front of the rectum. The prostate gland makes a fluid called seminal fluid. This fluid nourishes the sperm and helps to carry it out of the body in a man’s semen.

With prostate cancer, normal cells in a man’s prostate gland begin to change and grow uncontrollably. This forms a tumor that may invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.

Understanding Palliative Care

Palliative (pronounced “pal-lee-uh-tiv”) care is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. It focuses on providing you with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness like prostate cancer. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and your family.

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work alongside your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. You can have it at any age and at any stage of your illness. You can also have it together with curative treatment.

Treating Prostate Cancer Symptoms—How Palliative Care Can Help

Prostate cancer can cause problems with urination. You may feel the need to urinate all the time or have trouble urinating. You may have a weak or interrupted flow of urine, difficulty starting or stopping urination, and painful or burning urination.

You may experience other symptoms too. These prostate cancer symptoms can include pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs; difficulty having an erection; pain with ejaculation; and blood in the urine or semen. Early prostate cancer, however, does not usually cause symptoms.

Your doctor will perform several tests to detect prostate cancer. After first performing a physical exam, your doctor will give you a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test. Other tests may include an ultrasound, x-ray, CT scan, MRI or biopsy (removal and analysis of a tissue sample).

There are several options for treating prostate cancer. In the early stages, it may be removed with surgery; but if the tumor is too large, or too close to any set of nerves, surgery may not be an option. Radiation therapy and hormone therapy may also be used to treat prostate cancer. If it is at an early stage and growing slowly, you may have the option of watchful waiting (monitoring the cancer with regular checkups).

Palliative care specialists will explain to you all your different options, and then help you to make an informed choice. They do this by helping you to match your treatment options with your personal needs and goals. They will spend a great deal of time with you to ensure that you and your family fully understand your disease.

Palliative care specialists are experts in treating the symptoms of a serious illness like prostate cancer. Bone pain, for example, is common with prostate cancer. The specialists in your palliative care team will work with you to find the best medicines for your pain. They may recommend using a number of medicines and steroids that would help you reduce treatment with opiates.

Fatigue (feeling weak or tired) is a common side effect if you are undergoing hormone therapy, as it decreases testosterone. Radiation treatments can also cause fatigue and other symptoms. Palliative care specialists can help you boost your energy by adjusting hormone levels with medicines, and suggesting specific exercises and other lifestyle changes.

Common prostate cancer side effects, such as incontinence and loss of sex drive, are often hard to deal with. They may affect your self-esteem and create anxiety for both you and your loved ones. Your palliative care team will help you to discuss your situation with your family, to help ease any emotional issues that may be related to side effects.

Your palliative care team can help you with all this and more. The team will be your sounding board and your first line of defense against any symptoms of pain, discomfort, depression or anxiety.

The team specialists will help you and your loved ones to make both large and small decisions. They will enhance communication between you, your family and your other doctors, and help you to clarify your goals for care.

These are some of the many benefits of palliative care.

How to Get Palliative Care

If you or a loved one needs palliative care, ask your doctor for a referral.

Finding a hospital with a palliative care team in your area is easy. Just go to GetPalliativeCare.org/providers for a state-by-state list. To find out if palliative care is right for you, take our quiz.