Once a man has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, his physician will perform one or more additional tests to determine the stage of cancer. These tests may include a digital rectal examination, a blood test, an MRI of the prostate or skeleton, a CT of the pelvis and abdomen, or a surgical procedure to examine lymph nodes. While not all men will need each test, most men will undergo at least one of these tests in order for their physician to better stage the cancer.
If you are diagnosed with stage I prostate cancer, this means that your cancer is microscopic and only located in the prostate. Your cancer will not be large enough for your doctor to manipulate digitally. Additionally, the cancer will not be able to be detected on any digital imaging of the prostate gland. Stage I cancer of the prostate will be discovered by a needle biopsy or in tissue that is removed during other surgical procedures.
In stage II prostate cancer, the cancer is still located solely in the prostate. The cancer may be found in one-half or less of one lobe of the prostate, in more than one-half of one lobe or in opposite sides of the prostate gland. As in stage I prostate cancer, stage II cancers cannot be felt during digital rectal exams, nor will the cancer be visible on any type of imaging.
In stage III prostate cancer, the cancer has spread outside of the prostate to nearby tissues. The prostate specific antigen, or PSA, score can be at any level and the Gleason score will range between two and ten. Your doctor may choose to treat you with external-beam radiation therapy, hormone therapy or suggest you for a clinical trial of new therapies. Alternatively, your doctor may suggest no treatment at all and, instead, adopt a watch and see approach to your cancer.
When your prostate cancer has metastasized, or spread, to other areas of your body, you are diagnosed with stage IV cancer. Your cancer may be found in your bones, liver, lungs or lymph nodes. Stage IV prostate cancer, like other cancers that have reached the fourth stage, is considered to be the most serious. Without immediate treatment, this type of cancer will likely prove fatal. Your doctor may prescribe chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy or a radical prostatectomy combined with other therapies.
The better you understand your diagnosis and the stage of prostate cancer that has been discovered, the better equipped you will be to partner with your oncologist to aggressively tackle your disease. If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, do not hesitate to approach your doctor with any questions that you may have. Your gained knowledge may just save your life.