See your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.
In honor of National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, the African American Wellness Project is teaming up with Linkwell Health, the premier digital content marketing and consumer experience technology company in healthcare, to help spread the word about prostate cancer risks, treatment, and prevention in the African American community.
With prostate cancer, as with many cancers, symptoms can be subtle and easy to miss. Often, we write them off as normal side effects of aging.
“Unfortunately, prostate cancer often shows no symptoms until later stages of the disease,” says Glen McWilliams, M.D. He’s part of the National Medical Association and a urologist in the Bronx, New York. Which means it’s super important to know your personal risk factors and to stay on top of screening — especially if you’re considered high risk. Getting screened with a prostate-specific antigen test (PSAs) when your doctor says it’s time can help you catch the disease earlier, when it’s easier to treat. And in good news, early diagnosis and treatment have over a 99% five-year survival rate.
Still, it’s good to be aware of the signs so that if you need to, you can jump into action. Read on for the symptoms of advanced-stage prostate cancer. But keep in mind that these symptoms often point to other common medical conditions, not cancer. Or they could be caused by something harmless, like recent sexual or physical activity. What’s key is understanding what’s normal for your body and what isn’t so that when something seems off or wrong for you, you’ll know it’s time to give your doctor a call.
1. Changes in urination urgency or frequency
If middle-of-the-night bathroom runs didn’t used to be a problem for you, but now you wake up needing to go several times throughout the night, this could be a sign that something is wrong. Rapidly changing bathroom habits can point to urinary tract issues or even prostate cancer.
With prostate cancer, it’s common to feel a constant urge to urinate, especially at night. You may also lose control of your bladder. This is because the cancer is pressing up against the spinal cord. Losing control of bowel movements may happen too.
Remember, not all urinary symptoms signal cancer. There are other common conditions that cause similar problems, such as:
- Overactive bladder
- Prostatitis (inflamed prostate)
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate gland)
2. Changes in the flow of urination
Prostate cancer can cause the lymph nodes to swell. Enlarged lymph nodes can block your ureters (the tubes connected to your kidneys). This may lead to urinary obstruction, meaning it’s difficult to start peeing when you need to go. Prostate cancer can also make it hard to hold in urine when you’re not ready to go.
The flow of urine itself may be affected by prostate cancer too. You might notice:
- Weak stream of urine
- Dribbling urine
- Interrupted urination
- Straining yourself to pee
3. Painful urination
This may feel like a burning sensation when you urinate. It’s much less commonly related to prostate cancer than other urinary tract issues, but it’s worth discussing with your doctor.
4. Blood in the urine or semen
When prostate cancer gets aggressive in the later stages, you may see blood in your urine or semen. In either case, your best bet is to head to the doctor, says Dr. McWilliams. “Your doctor will advocate for a PSA, but it doesn’t necessarily mean cancer.”
Bloody urine or semen is also a common symptom of other physical activities and conditions, including:
- Bladder stones
- Bladder or kidney cancer
5. Erectile dysfunction or painful erection
If prostate cancer spreads past the nerves outside the prostate capsule (the tissue around the prostate gland), it may lower the ability to get an erection. It’s also common for an erection to be painful.
You might also notice less fluid being ejaculated. Again, there are other common reasons for this issue, so don’t assume it’s prostate cancer — your doctor can help you pinpoint a cause. Other lifestyle factors and conditions that might be at play include:
- Unhealthy diet
- How often you ejaculate
- Cardiovascular disease
6. Lower-body weakness or numbness
Prostate cancer causes the prostate gland to grow. As the gland gets larger or the cancer spreads, it can push up against other parts of the body like the spinal cord. Compressed nerves around your spine can lead to a weak or numb feeling in your legs and feet.
7. Bone pain
Advanced-stage prostate cancer can spread to other parts of your body like the bones. This can cause bone pain, fractures, and even paralysis, according to Dr. McWilliams. Common places to feel pain caused by prostate cancer are in the:
- Pelvic area
- Lower back
- Upper thighs
The bottom line on prostate cancer symptoms
Prostate cancer symptoms vary by individual. What’s normal for you may not be normal for the next person. But as Dr. McWilliams advises, if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms — especially if you’re suddenly unable to get an erection, or if you’re going to the bathroom every 20 minutes or losing sleep — don’t blow it off. Call your primary care provider to get checked out.
Even better, don’t wait until you have symptoms to take action. Getting screened for prostate cancer is incredibly important, especially for high-risk individuals. Because the earlier you catch the disease, the better your odds of beating it.
“Don’t wait until you’re 60 to get a PSA. Come in sooner,” says Dr. McWilliams. “If I can do it and my brothers and friends can do it, you can too.”
Prostate Cancer Foundation (2020). “Prostate cancer signs and symptoms”
American Society of Clinical Oncology (2021). “Prostate cancer: signs and symptoms”
Prostate Cancer Foundation (2022). “Erectile Dysfunction”
American Cancer Society (2019). “Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer”
Johns Hopkins Medicine (n.d.) “Prostate cancer symtpoms”
American Cancer Society (2019). “What is prostate cancer?”
Prostate Cancer Foundation (2022). “Prostate cancer survival rates”