The prostate is a small gland that forms part of the male reproductive system. Prostate cancer and prostatitis are two conditions that can affect the prostate and may present with similar symptoms. However, the two conditions are different, as prostatitis refers to inflammation of the prostate, whereas prostate cancer is when cancer cells develop in the prostate.

The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped organ that sits below the bladder, in front of the rectum. It plays an important role in male reproductive anatomy by making semen and converting testosterone into its active form.

Prostate problems are more common in older adults because the prostate gland grows as a person ages, and the growth affects how it works.

An image of a prostate tumor.Share on Pinterest
Science Photo Library – ZEPHYR/Getty Images

This article focuses on two common conditions that can affect the prostate: prostatitis and prostate cancer. It considers the similarities and differences between the two conditions and the likelihood of one leading to another.

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer develops when the cells within the tissue of the prostate become cancerous and replicate uncontrollably.

Most prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas, which means the cancer develops in the gland, or secretory, cells where the body produces prostate fluid. However, prostate cancer can also develop in other local cells.

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in males in the United States, although mortality rates vary between ethnic groups.

Evidence suggests that prostate cancer causes the highest death rates in Black people, with 42 deaths out of every 100,000 people. Asian people are less likely to die from prostate cancer, with figures estimating a mortality rate of 8.8 people per 100,000.

Learn more about prostate cancer in Black males here.


Prostatitis is a condition that involves painful inflammation of the prostate and the surrounding area. It is the most common urinary tract problem for males younger than 50 and the third most common for those older than 50.

There are four main types of prostatitis:

  • Chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS): This is the most common type and can result in pain or discomfort that lasts 3 months or longer. It can occur due to stress or damage to the urinary tract following surgery or a physical injury.
  • Acute bacterial prostatitis (ABP): This refers to an uncommon type of prostatitis that suddenly occurs when bacteria enter the prostate from the urethra.
  • Chronic bacterial prostatitis (CBP): This type is similar to ABP but has a more prolonged onset and duration.
  • Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis (AIP): This is a form of prostatitis that does not cause symptoms. A doctor may identify it during a blood test or imaging scan.

Learn more about infection of the prostate here.

People with early stages of prostate cancer do not usually present with any symptoms. More advanced cases may cause symptoms, which can include:

  • urination issues, which may include a weak stream and more frequent urination, especially at night
  • producing urine or semen containing blood
  • difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection
  • weakness or numbness in lower extremities or loss of bladder or bowel control
  • pain in bones due to the spread of cancer

Symptoms of prostatitis vary depending on the type and the individual experiencing the condition, but many symptoms can overlap. The following table highlights the symptoms for the four main types of prostatitis:

Trouble passing urine (and sometimes pain)ChillsBurning sensation when passing urineNo symptoms
Pain in the bladder, testicles, and penisFeverFrequent urination
Trouble and pain with ejaculationBurning sensation when passing urinePain in the bladder, testicles, and penis
Difficulty draining bladderPain with ejaculation

Learn more about prostate problems here.

Prostatitis is inflammation of the prostate, and prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate tissue divide uncontrollably, creating tumors.

Some symptoms of prostate cancer and prostatitis, such as pain and urinary frequency, may overlap between the conditions. However, early prostate cancer typically causes no symptoms, and people may only notice symptoms at a more advanced stage.

While both conditions can be uncomfortable, prostate cancer is significantly more dangerous and is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in males. Prostatitis does not result in death.

Prostatitis is relatively common, as it is likely to affect around 50% of all males at some time during their lives. Similarly, more than half of all males in the U.S. may have some cancer cells in their prostate glands by the age of 80. However, most of these cancer cells may never cause any symptoms or become a serious health concern.

Doctors can diagnose prostate cancer at an early stage with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. People may not experience any symptoms, but a high PSA level could indicate prostate cancer.

However, other factors can increase PSA level, including prostatitis. Various other medical tests, such as blood tests, ultrasound, and biopsies, can help differentiate and identify which condition a person has.

Learn more about reasons for a high PSA that are not cancer.

Some common questions people may have about both conditions can include:

Can people have both?

Yes, it is possible for a person to have both prostate cancer and prostatitis at the same time. It is not uncommon for a person to experience symptoms of prostatitis and receive a diagnosis for prostate cancer as well.

Does prostatitis increase prostate cancer risk?

Current evidence suggests that prostatitis, or other prostate problems, does not increase a person’s chances of developing prostate cancer.

However, a person with prostatitis may be more likely to receive a prostate cancer diagnosis. This is because they may have more interactions with healthcare professionals and diagnostic testing, leading to the detection and diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Researchers are investigating whether inflammation may contribute towards the eventual development of prostate cancer, but as yet, no evidence indicates this.

Can prostate cancer cause prostatitis?

While the conditions can occur at the same time, evidence suggests that prostate cancer does not inflame the prostate and cause prostatitis. However, some treatment options, such as radiation therapy, may lead to symptoms similar to prostatitis.

The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland that has a role in semen and hormone production. Conditions that affect the prostate, such as cancer and prostatitis, may affect its functioning, causing similar symptoms.

While many symptoms of these two conditions may overlap, they are very different. Prostatitis refers to painful inflammation of the prostate, generally due to injury or infection. In contrast, prostate cancer is a more serious condition that results from cancerous cells in the prostate tissue.

If anyone notices urination issues or ejaculation problems, it is best to talk with a doctor.