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Home > Health Library > Prostate Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI]
This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Prostate cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the prostate.
The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system. It lies just below the bladder (the organ that collects and empties urine) and in front of the rectum (the lower part of the intestine). It is about the size of a walnut and surrounds part of the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder). The prostate gland makes fluid that is part of the semen.Anatomy of the male reproductive and urinary systems, showing the prostate, testicles, bladder, and other organs.
Prostate cancer is most common in older men. In the U.S., about 1 out of 5 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Signs of prostate cancer include a weak flow of urine or frequent urination.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by prostate cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. As men age, the prostate may get bigger and block the urethra or bladder. This may cause trouble urinating or sexual problems. The condition is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), and although it is not cancer, surgery may be needed. The symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia or of other problems in the prostate may be like symptoms of prostate cancer.
Normal prostate and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). A normal prostate does not block the flow of urine from the bladder. An enlarged prostate presses on the bladder and urethra and blocks the flow of urine.
Tests that examine the prostate and blood are used to diagnose prostate cancer.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
A biopsy is done to diagnose prostate cancer and find out the grade of the cancer (Gleason score).
A transrectal biopsy is used to diagnose prostate cancer. A transrectal biopsy is the removal of tissue from the prostate by inserting a thin needle through the rectum and into the prostate. This procedure may be done using transrectal ultrasound or transrectal MRI to help guide where samples of tissue are taken from. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. Transrectal biopsy. An ultrasound probe is inserted into the rectum to show where the tumor is. Then a needle is inserted through the rectum into the prostate to remove tissue from the prostate.
Sometimes a biopsy is done using a sample of tissue that was removed during a transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia.
If cancer is found, the pathologist will give the cancer a grade. The grade of the cancer describes how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread. The grade of the cancer is called the Gleason score.
To give the cancer a grade, the pathologist checks the prostate tissue samples to see how much the tumor tissue is like the normal prostate tissue and to find the two main cell patterns. The primary pattern describes the most common tissue pattern, and the secondary pattern describes the next most common pattern. Each pattern is given a grade from 3 to 5, with grade 3 looking the most like normal prostate tissue and grade 5 looking the most abnormal. The two grades are then added to get a Gleason score.
The Gleason score can range from 6 to 10. The higher the Gleason score, the more likely the cancer will grow and spread quickly. A Gleason score of 6 is a low-grade cancer; a score of 7 is a medium-grade cancer; and a score of 8, 9, or 10 is a high-grade cancer. For example, if the most common tissue pattern is grade 3 and the secondary pattern is grade 4, it means that most of the cancer is grade 3 and less of the cancer is grade 4. The grades are added for a Gleason score of 7, and it is a medium-grade cancer. The Gleason score may be written as 3+4=7, Gleason 7/10, or combined Gleason score of 7.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis and treatment options depend on the following:
Treatment options also may depend on the following:
Most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die of it.
After prostate cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the prostate or to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the prostate or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The results of the tests used to diagnose prostate cancer are often also used to stage the disease. (See the General Information section.) In prostate cancer, staging tests may not be done unless the patient has symptoms or signs that the cancer has spread, such as bone pain, a high PSA level, or a high Gleason score.
The following tests and procedures also may be used in the staging process:
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if prostate cancer spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are actually prostate cancer cells. The disease is metastatic prostate cancer, not bone cancer.
Denosumab, a monoclonal antibody, may be used to prevent bone metastases.
The Grade Group and PSA level are used to stage prostate cancer.
The stage of the cancer is based on the results of the staging and diagnostic tests, including the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and the Grade Group. The tissue samples removed during the biopsy are used to find out the Gleason score. The Gleason score ranges from 2 to 10 and describes how different the cancer cells look from normal cells under a microscope and how likely it is that the tumor will spread. The lower the number, the more cancer cells look like normal cells and are likely to grow and spread slowly.
The Grade Group depends on the Gleason score. See the General Information section for more information about the Gleason score.
The PSA test measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate that may be found in an increased amount in the blood of men who have prostate cancer.
The following stages are used for prostate cancer:
Stage I prostate cancer. Cancer is found in the prostate only. The cancer is not felt during a digital rectal exam and is found by needle biopsy done for high prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level or in a sample of tissue removed during surgery for other reasons. The PSA level is less than 10 and the Grade Group is 1; OR the cancer is felt during a digital rectal exam and is found in one-half or less of one side of the prostate. The PSA level is less than 10 and the Grade Group is 1.
In stage I, cancer is found in the prostate only. The cancer:
In stage II, cancer is more advanced than in stage I, but has not spread outside the prostate. Stage II is divided into stages IIA, IIB, and IIC.
Stage IIA prostate cancer. Cancer is found in the prostate only. Cancer is found in one-half or less of one side of the prostate. The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level is at least 10 but less than 20 and the Grade Group is 1; OR cancer is found in more than one-half of one side of the prostate or in both sides of the prostate. The PSA level is less than 20 and the Grade Group is 1.
In stage IIA, cancer:
Stage IIB prostate cancer. Cancer is found in the prostate only. Cancer is found in one or both sides of the prostate. The prostate-specific antigen level is less than 20 and the Grade Group is 2.
In stage IIB, cancer:
Stage IIC prostate cancer. Cancer is found in the prostate only. Cancer is found in one or both sides of the prostate. The prostate-specific antigen level is less than 20 and the Grade Group is 3 or 4.
In stage IIC, cancer:
Stage III is divided into stages IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.
Stage IIIA prostate cancer. Cancer is found in the prostate only. Cancer is found in one or both sides of the prostate. The prostate-specific antigen level is at least 20 and the Grade Group is 1, 2, 3, or 4.
In stage IIIA, cancer:
Stage IIIB prostate cancer. Cancer has spread from the prostate to the seminal vesicles or to nearby tissue or organs, such as the rectum, bladder, or pelvic wall. The prostate-specific antigen can be any level and the Grade Group is 1, 2, 3, or 4.
In stage IIIB, cancer:
Stage IIIC prostate cancer. Cancer is found in one or both sides of the prostate and may have spread to the seminal vesicles or to nearby tissue or organs, such as the rectum, bladder, or pelvic wall. The prostate-specific antigen can be any level and the Grade Group is 5.
In stage IIIC, cancer:
Stage IV is divided into stages IVA and IVB.
Stage IVA prostate cancer. Cancer is found in one or both sides of the prostate and may have spread to the seminal vesicles or to nearby tissue or organs, such as the rectum, bladder, or pelvic wall. Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. The prostate-specific antigen can be any level and the Grade Group is 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.
In stage IVA, cancer:
Stage IVB prostate cancer. Cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones or distant lymph nodes.
In stage IVB, cancer:
Prostate cancer may recur (come back) after it has been treated.
The cancer may come back in the prostate or in other parts of the body.
There are different types of treatment for patients with prostate cancer.
Different types of treatment are available for patients with prostate cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Seven types of standard treatment are used:
Watchful waiting or active surveillance
Watchful waiting and active surveillance are treatments used for older men who do not have signs or symptoms or have other medical conditions and for men whose prostate cancer is found during a screening test.
Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient's condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change. Treatment is given to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
Active surveillance is closely following a patient's condition without giving any treatment unless there are changes in test results. It is used to find early signs that the condition is getting worse. In active surveillance, patients are given certain exams and tests, including digital rectal exam, PSA test, transrectal ultrasound, and transrectal needle biopsy, to check if the cancer is growing. When the cancer begins to grow, treatment is given to cure the cancer.
Other terms that are used to describe not giving treatment to cure prostate cancer right after diagnosis are observation, watch and wait, and expectant management.
Patients in good health whose tumor is in the prostate gland only may be treated with surgery to remove the tumor. The following types of surgery are used:
In some cases, the nerves that control penile erection can be saved with nerve-sparing surgery. However, this may not be possible in men with large tumors or tumors that are very close to the nerves.
Possible problems after prostate cancer surgery include the following:
Radiation therapy and radiopharmaceutical therapy
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are different types of radiation therapy:
Hypofractionated radiation therapy may be given because it has a more convenient treatment schedule. Hypofractionated radiation therapy is radiation treatment in which a larger than usual total dose of radiation is given once a day over a shorter period of time (fewer days) compared to standard radiation therapy. Hypofractionated radiation therapy may have worse side effects than standard radiation therapy, depending on the schedules used.
The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. External radiation therapy, internal radiation therapy, and radiopharmaceutical therapy are used to treat prostate cancer.
Men treated with radiation therapy for prostate cancer have an increased risk of having bladder and/or gastrointestinal cancer.
Radiation therapy can cause impotence and urinary problems that may get worse with age.
Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances made by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. In prostate cancer, male sex hormones can cause prostate cancer to grow. Drugs, surgery, or other hormones are used to reduce the amount of male hormones or block them from working. This is called androgen deprivation therapy (ADT).
Hormone therapy for prostate cancer may include the following:
Hot flashes, impaired sexual function, loss of desire for sex, and weakened bones may occur in men treated with hormone therapy. Other side effects include diarrhea, nausea, and itching.
See Drugs Approved for Prostate Cancer for more information.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy).
Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. Sipuleucel-T is a type of immunotherapy used to treat prostate cancer that has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body).
Bisphosphonate drugs, such as clodronate or zoledronate, reduce bone disease when cancer has spread to the bone. Men who are treated with antiandrogen therapy or orchiectomy are at an increased risk of bone loss. In these men, bisphosphonate drugs lessen the risk of bone fracture (breaks). The use of bisphosphonate drugs to prevent or slow the growth of bone metastases is being studied in clinical trials.
There are treatments for bone pain caused by bone metastases or hormone therapy.
Prostate cancer that has spread to the bone and certain types of hormone therapy can weaken bones and lead to bone pain. Treatments for bone pain include the following:
See the PDQ summary on Pain for more information.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Cryosurgery is a treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy prostate cancer cells. Ultrasound is used to find the area that will be treated. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy.
Cryosurgery can cause impotence and leakage of urine from the bladder or stool from the rectum.
High-intensity–focused ultrasound therapy
High-intensity–focused ultrasound therapy is a treatment that uses ultrasound (high-energy sound waves) to destroy cancer cells. To treat prostate cancer, an endorectal probe is used to make the sound waves.
Proton beam radiation therapy
Proton beam radiation therapy is a type of high-energy, external radiation therapy that targets tumors with streams of protons (small, positively charged particles). This type of radiation therapy is being studied in the treatment of prostate cancer.
A cancer treatment that uses a drug and a certain type of laser light to kill cancer cells. A drug that is not active until it is exposed to light is injected into a vein. The drug collects more in cancer cells than in normal cells. Fiberoptic tubes are then used to carry the laser light to the cancer cells, where the drug becomes active and kills the cells. Photodynamic therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue. It is used mainly to treat tumors on or just under the skin or in the lining of internal organs.
Treatment for prostate cancer may cause side effects.
For information about side effects caused by treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI's clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Standard treatment of stage I prostate cancer may include the following:
Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.
Standard treatment of stage II prostate cancer may include the following:
Standard treatment of stage III prostate cancer may include the following:
Treatment to control cancer that is in the prostate and lessen urinary symptoms may include the following:
Standard treatment of stage IV prostate cancer may include the following:
Standard treatment of recurrent or hormone-resistant prostate cancer may include the following:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about prostate cancer, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
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Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials can be found online at NCI's website. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), NCI's contact center, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Prostate Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/prostate/patient/prostate-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389353]
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Last Revised: 2020-06-26
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