Is Prostate Cancer that Has Spread to the Bones Curable?

Ask a Doctor

My grandfather has prostate cancer. It seemed as if he had beat it, but in a followup appointment, they found the cancer had spread to the bones. Could he still beat the disease? Is prostate cancer that has spread to the bones curable?

Doctor’s Response

Prostate cancer commonly spreads to the bones before it spreads to other organs. When prostate cancer spreads (metastasizes) to other parts of the body it is typically stage 3 or 4, which are more advanced stages of the cancer. At these stages the cancer cannot be cured.

Once the cancer has reached the bones, the goal of treatment is to slow or prevent the spread of the cancer, and to control or relieve pain and other complications.

Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and vaccines may be used, and other treatments that target the bone metastasis are often recommended.

The prognosis in prostate cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and the degree of differentiation.

  • Differentiation refers to how closely the cancer resembles normal tissue. This is assessed by calculating the Gleason score as mentioned earlier. The less differentiated the cancer, the poorer the prognosis.
  • The stage refers to the extent of the cancer -- whether it is localized or has spread beyond the prostate. The greater the degree of cancer spread, the poorer the outlook.

5-year survival rates are very good for men with prostate cancer.

  • According to the American Cancer Society, most men with these cancers survive at least 5 years.
  • Most prostate cancers are slow growing, as shown by the fact that a majority of men with prostate cancer survive at least 10 years.
  • Sometimes, however, prostate cancers grow and spread rapidly. Therefore, early diagnosis is essential for a cure.

If a man is elderly and has other medical conditions, watchful waiting may be the most prudent course.

  • Therapy may be more harmful than the cancer.
  • This is especially true if a man's life expectancy is less than 10 years.
  • Many times, elderly men with prostate cancer actually die of something else, such as heart disease, not the slow-growing prostate cancer.

A man and his family members should discuss this with his urologist.

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Kevin C. Zorn, MD, FRCSC, FACS coauthored this article. REFERENCE:

American Cancer Society. Preventing and Treating Prostate Cancer Spread to Bones. 11 March 2016. 2 January 2019 .