Signs Your Back Pain Is Actually Prostate Cancer

Men have a walnut-sized gland that sits below their bladders and helps to make semen. This gland, called the prostate, grows larger as a man ages, and almost all prostate cancers occur when the cells of the prostate gland uncontrollably multiply. The American Cancer Society says prostate cancer ranks second behind skin cancer as the most common in men, with almost 300,000 diagnoses predicted for 2024.

A prostate cancer diagnosis doesn't necessarily mean death. Just about 2% of prostate cancers result in death because prostate cancer can most likely be treated if it's detected early. While screening finds most prostate cancers, some symptoms might emerge at an early stage, such as problems urinating or blood in urine or semen. Some people might not have any symptoms. However, if you begin experiencing back pain along with weight loss, fatigue, erectile dysfunction, or weakness in your lower limbs, these could be signs of advanced prostate cancer.

Why you might experience back pain with prostate cancer

If prostate cancer has spread to your bones, you could feel pain in places like your back, hips, or chest. It's not bone cancer, but prostate cancer bone metastases. This type of metastatic prostate cancer occurs in 85% to 90% of patients, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. You'll feel pain in your bones because the cancer deteriorates the health of the bones.

Your treatment team will suggest drugs to alleviate the pain and help heal the bone. Bisphosphonates (such as zoledronic acid) are infusions given every three weeks to prevent or delay any complications related to your bone health. Injections such as denosumab work in a similar way. While being treated with either drug, your treatment team might have you take calcium and vitamin D supplements to avoid certain issues related to your bones, such as osteonecrosis of the jaw. Prostate cancer bone metastases could also be treated with radiation therapy for one to two weeks.

Testing for prostate cancer

The American Cancer Society acknowledges that bone pain in your hips, back, or ribs could be symptoms of other conditions. Even men who have trouble urinating could have benign prostatic hyperplasia, which is also known as an enlarged prostate. Erectile dysfunction could be caused by high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, Peyronie's disease, sleep disorders, or substance use disorders.

Your doctor could feel for any abnormalities on your prostate that could indicate prostate cancer through a digital rectal exam (DRE). This involves the doctor using a gloved and lubricated finger inside your rectum. Even if you don't have symptoms, your doctor could order a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test to look for high levels of a protein that could indicate the likelihood of prostate cancer. The PSA test can also be used for those with prostate cancer to find out the extent of the cancer and determine the best treatment options.

A prostate biopsy might be ordered if preliminary tests like the DRE and PSA indicate the possibility of prostate cancer. This 10-minute procedure involves taking a sample of a few cells of prostate tissue so a lab can determine whether or not it is cancer.