How to know if your prostate cancer has spread

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How to know if your prostate cancer has spread

No man or his loved ones like to think of the possibility of his prostate cancer spreading beyond this gland.  But, prostate cancer, like all cancers, has the potential to spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.  If and when it does, it will typically affect the structures within the immediate area such as your seminal vesicles, urinary bladder, and bones of your pelvis.  Other likely areas prostate cancer may spread to are the bones or lymph nodes near the prostate and other organs such as the liver and intestines.

How would a man know if his prostate cancer has spread?

The spread of prostate cancer may be suspected if there are certain symptoms.  If a man is experiencing lower back pain this could indicate his prostate cancer may have metastasized to the lower spine.  Other ways to know if prostate cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland is if a man’s liver enzymes are elevated or if his prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels are continuing to rise despite treatment.

Tests doctors use to find and detect metastatic prostate cancer

There are several tests a doctor can utilize to help determine and detect metastatic prostate cancer which include the following:

·      Bone scan

A bone scan is a specialized nuclear imaging procedure used to examine the various bones of the skeleton.  It uses tiny amounts of radioactive materials called radionuclide or tracers used to assist in the examination of the bones.  The radionuclide or tracers will collect within the bone tissue at spots of abnormal physical and chemical change. 

The areas where the radionuclide collect are called “hot spots” indicating the presence of conditions such as metastatic bone cancer. 

·      CT scan

A CT scan can be useful when a doctor thinks cancer might have spread but doesn’t know where to.  Computerized tomography or CT scan is a combined series of x-ray images taken from different angles using computer processing to create cross-sectional images of slices, of the bones, blood vessels and soft tissues inside the body.  A CT scan will provide more information than an x-ray will.

A CT scan can be used to diagnose disease or injury and can show spread of cancer to the liver, bones, adrenal glands or some other organs. 

·      MRI

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging which uses magnetism and radio waves to build up a picture of the inside of the body.  It can be used to show how deeply a tumor has grown into body tissues playing an important role in cancer diagnosis, staging, and treatment planning.  An MRI will provide a greater contrast within the soft tissues of the body than a CT scan and it is often used for imaging of the brain, spine, muscle, connective tissue and the inside of bones.

·      PET scan

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan is a nuclear imaging technique that creates detailed, computerized pictures of organs and tissues inside the body.  PET scans can reveal how the body is functioning and helps uncover areas of abnormal metabolic activity.

In this procedure a person is injected with a glucose (sugar) solution containing a very small amount of radioactive material – cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells.  Cells which are actively growing such as cancer cells, will take up the sugar and light up on examination. This helps a doctor determine the rate at which the tumor is using the glucose which can help determine the tumor grade. 

A PET scan can be used to detect cancerous tissues and cells in the body that may not always be found through computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).