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Can back pain be a symptom of prostate cancer?

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that sits below the bladder and wraps around the urethra. This gland is part of the male reproductive system and is involved in the production of semen.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer among American males, affecting 1 in 9 over the course of their lifetimes.

The outlook for people with prostate cancer is encouraging, particularly when doctors diagnose it early. For all stages of prostate cancer, the ACS report 5- and 10-year relative survival rates of 99 percent and 98 percent, respectively.

However, prostate cancer is still a leading cause of cancer death, so regular screenings and prompt attention to possible symptoms are very important.

In this article, we look at the link between back pain and prostate cancer. We also describe other causes of back pain and explore prostate cancer in detail, including its symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, testing, and treatment.

Can back pain be a symptom of prostate cancer?

There can be a connection between back pain and prostate cancer, but back pain alone is not necessarily a sign of the disease.

In advanced prostate cancer, cancer cells spread beyond the prostate to other parts of the body. These cells usually spread to the bones first, and doctors refer to this as bone metastasis.

If prostate cancer spreads to the bones, it most often reaches the spine, ribs, and hips. This occurs in stage 4 prostate cancer, and it can cause pain. According to ZERO, an advocacy group, bone metastases will affect more than 60 percent of men with advanced prostate cancer.

Individuals with chronic back pain that has no obvious cause should see a physician for an evaluation.

Other causes of back pain

Back pain, particularly in the short term, is a very common medical complaint. Possible causes can include:

  • strains, sprains, and overexertion
  • injuries
  • damaged, ruptured, or deteriorating discs in the spine
  • spinal stenosis
  • pressure on the spinal nerves
  • sciatica
  • abnormalities of the spine, such as scoliosis
  • arthritis and other inflammatory diseases
  • kidney stones
  • infections
  • abdominal aortic aneurysms

One of the most significant risk factors is aging. According to the ACS, this type of cancer is rare among males aged under 40 years. The average age at diagnosis is around 66 years old.

Another risk factor is ethnicity, but doctors do not understand why. The ACS state that prostate cancer is more common in African-American males and in those from the Caribbean with African descendants.

The disease is less common in Asian-American and Hispanic, or Latino, males than in non-Hispanic whites.

Having a family member with the disease may also increase a person’s chances of developing it.

Other risk factors may include:

  • an unhealthful diet
  • obesity
  • exposure to certain chemicals

When to see a doctor

Prostate cancer often causes no symptoms in the early stages. According to the National Cancer Institute, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening is the most common method of detecting this cancer in the United States.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that males ages 55–69 discuss the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening with their doctors.

People who have regular back pain and are concerned about the risk of prostate cancer should also speak to their doctors.

Anyone who has already been diagnosed with prostate cancer and who begins to experience chronic back pain should see a doctor as soon as possible. Unexplained back pain can indicate that the cancer has spread.

There are a variety of treatment options for people with prostate cancer and back pain.

Doctors often suggest watchful waiting, or no treatment, in the early stages of the disease. For other people, they may recommend a prostatectomy, which involves removing the prostate and some of the surrounding tissue.

Another treatment option is radiation therapy, which consists of using targeted radiation beams to kill the cancer cells.

For people with bone metastases, a doctor may inject radioactive drugs called radiopharmaceuticals. These drugs specifically target and kill cancer cells in the bones. Radiopharmaceuticals can relieve bone pain and help a person live longer.

Doctors may also prescribe medicines to prevent complications from bone metastases.

To help keep the bones strong, a person may also need to take calcium and vitamin supplements.

Common treatments for symptoms of back pain include:

  • using heat packs or cold packs
  • gentle stretching and low impact activities
  • strengthening exercises
  • physical therapy
  • over-the-counter or prescription pain medication

Takeaway

Prostate cancer is common among males in the U.S. It usually progresses slowly and responds well to treatment. Most people who receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer do not die from it.

Back pain can sometimes occur with advanced prostate cancer. However, back pain on its own does not necessarily indicate that a person has the disease. This pain is a common medical complaint, and there are many possible causes.

Anyone experiencing back pain and who is about the risk of prostate cancer should consider speaking to a doctor.

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