Subtle Signs You're Dying From Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among men, but the survival rate is high because prostate cancer develops slowly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 96% of men survive a prostate cancer diagnosis after five years. However, it can become more difficult to treat when it has metastasized, which means the cancer has spread through the body. This accounted for just 8% of prostate cancer diagnoses from 2016 to 2020.

Rather than undergoing treatment plans that eradicate the cancer, treating stage 4 prostate cancer is more about slowing the growth of the cancer cells and managing uncomfortable symptoms. According to Prostate Cancer UK, your doctor might not be able to tell you how much longer you have to live, but signs like drowsiness or unconsciousness indicate the last few days of life. Caregivers of people experiencing advanced prostate cancer might be able to help their loved ones once they notice other signs.

Signs of approaching prostate cancer death

Some people with stage 4 prostate cancer might experience pain, especially if the cancer begins compressing nerves. Doctors might be able to help manage pain through medication, but some pain could be alleviated by finding a comfortable position to sit or lie down. As blood flow changes in someone with metastatic prostate cancer, hands and feet might become blue or feel cold. The body doesn't need as much oxygen, so breathing might become slower or more shallow. You might also notice a "death rattle" as fluid becomes backed up in the throat. (Hear an end-of-life researcher explain the death rattle).

Days or sometimes hours before death, a person with advanced prostate cancer could become drowsy or sleep more often. This extreme fatigue could also make it more difficult to recognize people, or it might cause hallucinations. Others might feel restless or irritable as physical symptoms such as constipation or difficulty urinating persist. Caregivers can make this easier by holding the person's hand and keeping the environment calm.

Someone who is dying of prostate cancer might lose their appetite or stop drinking fluids. This might make the throat dry, so it helps to keep their mouth and lips moistened. The reduced food and fluid intake also means fewer trips to the bathroom.

How long someone can survive advanced prostate cancer

According to Birmingham Prostate Clinic, someone with advanced-stage prostate cancer can live up to 5 or 6 years from the time of diagnosis. With continually advancing treatments for prostate cancer, half of men diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer live beyond that 5-year mark. These prostate cancer treatments could include a combination of anti-androgen drugs and chemotherapy. How long you survive advanced prostate cancer can depend on the grade of your cancer cells (called the Gleason score) and your prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. Your overall health can also factor into how long you survive prostate cancer.

Although mortality rates from prostate cancer are the highest among men over 75, a 2021 article in Urology Case Reports highlighted a man whose prostate cancer had spread to his bones. Following 11 years of treatment, his cancer had not progressed. At age 87, he was still receiving hormone therapy and monoclonal antibodies for his bone disease. Prostate cancer can spread to the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, bladder, and bowel, but the Prostate Cancer Foundation says that as many as 90% of metastatic prostate cancers spread to the bone.