Symptoms of prostate cancer

Last medical review:

Prostate cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms often appear as the tumour grows and causes changes in the body such as changes in bladder habits. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as prostate cancer.

The signs or symptoms of prostate cancer include:

  • more frequent urination (pee) (called urinary frequency), especially at night
  • a strong or sudden urge to urinate (called urinary urgency)
  • difficulty starting the flow of urine (straining)
  • weak or slow urine stream
  • interrupted urine stream (starts and stops)
  • being unable to empty the bladder completely
  • having difficulty controlling the bladder (called incontinence), which can cause urine to leak and dribble
  • blood in the urine or semen
  • burning or pain during urination
  • discomfort or pain when sitting, caused by an enlarged prostate
  • painful ejaculation
  • trouble getting an erection (called erectile dysfunction)
  • pain or stiffness in back, hips or pelvis that doesn't go away
  • fatigue

In rare cases, prostate cancer can cause paraneoplastic syndrome. This is a group of symptoms including high blood pressure, fatigue and weight loss that may happen when substances released by cancer cells disrupt the normal function of nearby or distant organs or tissues.

In some cases, prostate cancer can cause serious problems. These cancer-related emergencies are uncommon but need to be treated right away and are usually a sign of advanced cancer:

  • Kidney failure (called acute renal failure) can happen if the tumour blocks the ureters.
  • Spinal cord compression happens when a tumour presses on the spinal cord. It can lead to weakness in the legs or feet and a loss of bowel or bladder control. Treatment is given to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord.

Expert review and references

  • Peter Chung, MBChB, FRCPC
  • Krista Noonan, MD, FRCPC
  • American Cancer Society. Prostate Cancer Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging. 2019: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging.html.
  • Garnick MB (ed.). Harvard Medical School 2015 Annual Report on Prostate Diseases. 2015.
  • Hermanns T, Kuk C, Zlotta AR . Clinical presentation, diagnosis and staging. Nargund VH, Raghavan D, Sandler HM (eds.). Urological Oncology. Springer; 2015: 40: 697-718.
  • Logothetis CJ, Kim J, Davis J, Kuban D, Mathew P, Aparicio A . Neoplasms of the prostate. Hong WK, Bast RC Jr, Hait WN, et al (eds.). Holland Frei Cancer Medicine. 8th ed. People's Medical Publishing House; 2010: 94: 1228-1254.
  • PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. Prostate Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2020: https://www.cancer.gov/types/prostate/patient/prostate-treatment-pdq.
  • PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. Prostate Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2020: https://www.cancer.gov/types/prostate/hp/prostate-treatment-pdq.