What is advanced prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men. Over 41,000 men in the UK are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. It usually affects men over 50 and is rare in younger men.

It differs from most other cancers in the body, in that small areas of cancer within the prostate are very common. It may also stay dormant (inactive) for many years.

Most prostate cancers grow very slowly. But in a proportion of men, prostate cancer can grow more quickly and in some cases may spread to other parts of the body, particularly the bones.

Prostate cancer can be:

  • Early (localised) – the cancer is only in the prostate gland.
  • Locally advanced – the cancer has started to spread beyond the prostate gland and may be affecting surrounding structures.
  • Advanced (metastatic) – the cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland to other parts of the body.

Advanced prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is usually diagnosed in the early stages before it has begun to spread outside the prostate gland. Some men, who have previously been treated for early or locally advanced prostate cancer, will develop advanced prostate cancer if their cancer comes back (relapse or recurrence) in other parts of the body.

In a few men, the prostate cancer will be advanced when it is first diagnosed.

When prostate cancer cells spread beyond the prostate gland they may travel around the body in the bloodstream or, less commonly, the lymphatic system. When these cells reach a new area of the body, they may go on dividing and form a new tumour called a metastasis or secondary tumour.

The most common places for prostate cancer to spread to are bones such as the spine, pelvis, thigh bone (femur) and ribs. Usually the cancer cells will spread to a number of different places in the bones rather than to a single site. Sometimes prostate cancer can affect the bone marrow. This is the spongy material that’s found in the centre of most bones. It’s also where the body’s blood cells are made.

Prostate cancer can also spread to the lymph nodes and, occasionally, it may affect the lungsbrain or liver.

Back to Understanding advanced prostate cancer

Cancer and cell types

Cancers are grouped into types. Types of cancer often behave and respond to treatments in different ways.

The prostate gland

The prostate gland produces semen and a protein called prostate specific antigen (PSA), needed for ejaculation.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.