Prostate cancer vs. prostatitis: The differences

Prostate cancer and prostatitis share some similar symptoms, but they are distinct health conditions with different causes, treatments, and prognoses. 

A black man holding his crotch with both hands

Key takeaways:

  • Prostate cancer and prostatitis are not the same disease. They are different medical conditions with different causes, diagnoses, and treatments. However, both health conditions share some similar symptoms, such as cloudy urine, frequent urination, and painful ejaculation.
  • The best way to avoid complications associated with prostate cancer and prostatitis is to consult a doctor as soon as possible to get early treatment.
  • You can treat prostate cancer with hormone therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy. Common treatments for prostatitis include anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relief medicines. 

As people with prostate glands age, it becomes increasingly necessary to be aware of any changes within the gland. That is because certain conditions may interrupt normal prostate functioning, thus having varied effects on health and overall quality of life. 

Some prostate conditions, like prostate cancer and prostatitis, often have similar symptoms, making it difficult for most people to identify them. Knowing the changes that could occur in the prostate gland and getting early treatments is essential for staying healthy. 

How can you tell the difference between prostatitis and prostate cancer? Can chronic prostatitis lead to prostate cancer? We will discuss these and more in this article. 

Prostate cancer vs. prostatitis: Are they the same?

Prostate cancer is not the same medical condition as prostatitis.  

Prostate cancer is a more severe condition that can progress and become life-threatening if not treated. Prostatitis, on the other hand, is an inflammation of the prostate gland that can cause pain and discomfort. 

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer occurs when unusual cells start to grow in the prostate gland. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every person with a prostate is at risk for prostate cancer. They also stated that 13 out of every 100 people born with a prostate in America will experience prostate cancer at some point.

“Prostate cancer can be more aggressive in some men. This is due to certain risk factors associated with the disease, such as age, family history, and ethnicity," says Dr. Sandeep Nayak, surgical oncologist at ClinicSpots. “Most men between 35 and 40 years of age are often encouraged to get regular screenings for prostate cancer, as early detection can be the difference between life and death in some cases,” he added. 

The four main stages of prostate cancer include:

Stage I: This is the first stage when the cancer has yet to grow beyond the prostate. This stage is also known as localized prostate cancer. 

A doctor may not advise immediate treatment for prostate cancer in the localized stage because it takes time to grow and spread.

Stage II: Here, prostate cancer indicates that the cancer cells have not yet spread beyond the prostate gland. However, compared to stage I, stage II prostate cancer carries a higher risk of growth and progression.

Stage III: In this stage, the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels are high, and the cancer is growing. All these indicate that the prostate is now in a locally advanced stage and is more likely to spread. 

Stage IV: This is an advanced stage of prostate cancer where cancer cells have spread either to distant parts of the body or the lymph nodes. 

What is prostatitis?

Prostatitis is a health condition that causes swelling and tenderness in the prostate or areas near the prostate. Although the swelling from prostatitis can increase your PSA level (prostate-specific antigen), it does not result in cancer.

According to research by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, prostatitis is a common urinary tract infection that mainly affects people with prostates who are under 50 years old. The same research mentioned that every year, health professionals in the United States receive about two million visits for prostatitis. A person with prostatitis may experience difficulty urinating and pain in their pelvic region.

Causes of prostate cancer vs. causes of prostatitis

Prostate cancer causes are different from the potential causes of prostate cancer.

Causes of prostate cancer

There is currently no known cause of prostate cancer. But aside from age, some other risk factors for prostate cancer may include:

1. Family history

Genes passed down through families can impact the risk of developing prostate cancer.

People who have immediate relatives living with prostate cancer are more likely to develop prostate cancer themselves. This risk is further increased if the relative with prostate cancer was diagnosed at a young age or if multiple family members are affected by the disease.

2. Ethnicity

When compared to men of other races, prostate cancer is more frequently diagnosed in African American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry, especially at a younger age. 

The underlying reasons for these racial and ethnic disparities in prostate cancer incidence are not fully understood.

3. Obesity

Although study findings have been inconsistent, people who are obese may be more prone to prostate cancer than individuals with a healthy weight. In those with obesity, prostate cancer tends to be more aggressive and more likely to recur after initial treatment.

Causes of Prostatitis

The causes of prostatitis differ depending on the type. Here are four common causes:

1. Acute bacterial prostatitis

Acute bacterial prostatitis occurs when a sudden and severe bacterial infection develops in the prostate gland. Acute bacterial prostatitis typically comes with pronounced symptoms such as the inability to pee, severe pain in the testicles or anus, and painful ejaculation. 

2. Chronic bacterial prostatitis

Chronic bacterial prostatitis occurs when there is a persistent bacterial infection in the prostate gland. Unlike acute bacterial prostatitis, chronic bacterial prostatitis causes fewer symptoms. 

3. Chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS)

Male CPPS is a common type of prostatitis that affects 19 out of 20 people who have prostatitis. It causes persistent pain in the pelvic, perineal, and genital regions.

4. Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis

This type of prostatitis does not typically cause symptoms. Doctors often discover asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis incidentally through tests conducted for other reasons, such as semen analysis for infertility. Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis does not usually require treatment. 

Prostate Cancer vs. Prostatitis: Difference between the two

Below is a summary of the differences between prostate cancer and prostatitis:

Table summarizing the difference between prostate cancer and prostatitis

Prostate Cancer


Prostate cancer occurs when unusual cells start growing in the prostate gland.

Prostatitis causes inflammation and tenderness in the prostate gland.

Some common risk factors for prostate cancer are family history, ethnicity, and obesity.

A bacterial infection or urinary tract infection typically causes prostatitis. 

Prostate cancer diagnosis involves a combination of prostate biopsy, blood tests, and digital rectal examination.

Prostatitis diagnosis involves urinalysis, transrectal ultrasound, and cystoscopy. 

Treatment options for prostate cancer may include hormone therapy, radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and natural herbs.

Treatment options for prostatitis may include pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Symptoms of prostate cancer and prostatitis

Certain signs that may be associated with prostate cancer and prostatitis include, but aren't limited to:

  • Trouble starting and stopping urination 
  • Frequent urination, mostly during the night
  • Bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Sudden, unhealthy weight loss
  • Cloudy urine
  • Pain in the groin or abdomen
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Muscle aches

Ask your doctor questions once you notice a frequent occurrence of one or more of these symptoms in your body.

Treatment for prostate cancer and prostatitis

“Prostatitis and prostate cancer can both be treated, depending on the severity of the condition," says Dr. Nayak.

Most cases of prostatitis can be treated using antibiotics or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, there are more severe cases, such as chronic bacterial prostatitis, that may require surgery to remove part of the prostate gland.

“The chances of survival for prostate cancer depend on the stage at which it is diagnosed. If caught in its early stages, where it has not spread beyond the prostate gland, surgery or radiation therapy may provide a full cure with an excellent chance of long-term survival," Nayak explains, adding that in advanced stages, treatment options become more complex and involve various combinations of therapies. 

Bottom Line

Overall, prostate cancer and prostatitis both occur in the prostate gland, but they are different. The growth of abnormal cells in the prostate gland is the primary cause of prostate cancer, which frequently necessitates a strict diagnosis and effective treatment options. On the other hand, infections and bacteria are what cause prostatitis.  

To effectively manage both prostate conditions, it is best to opt for regular medical attention and screening with a qualified doctor. By doing this, you can take total charge of your prostate health.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can chronic prostatitis lead to prostate cancer?

No research suggests a relationship between prostatitis and prostate cancer. However, there are speculations that chronic swelling in the prostate gland may indirectly increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. 

It is best to consult your doctor for a more proper evaluation of your symptoms.

Can prostate cancer be mistaken for prostatitis?

Yes, it is possible for people to mistake prostate cancer for prostatitis. Prostate cancer and prostatitis can have similar symptoms, such as urinary issues, pain in the pelvic region, and erectile dysfunction. The similarity in their symptoms may sometimes result in a misdiagnosis. 

Nonetheless, with a thorough assessment like blood tests, biopsies, and ultrasounds, it is easy to understand the difference between the two conditions and to detect the exact one causing a person's symptoms.

How can you tell if you have prostate cancer or prostatitis?

Having some of the symptoms listed in this article may suggest that a person has a medical condition like prostate cancer or prostatitis. However, there is no way to tell for sure unless a healthcare professional runs a thorough diagnosis that may include tests like blood tests, a digital rectal exam, a urine test, and a biopsy. A biopsy is the standard test to find out whether cancer has developed in the prostate.


  1. Harvard Health Publishing (n.d). Prostate health
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d). Who is at risk? 
  3. Prostate Cancer UK (2022). Localized prostate cancer
  4. Prostate Cancer Foundation (n.d). Prostatitis, what is it?
  5. NIDDK (2021). Prostatitis: Inflammation of the prostate
  6. American Cancer Society (n.d). Prostate cancer risk factors
  7. Prostate Cancer UK (2022). Prostatitis
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d). How Is prostate cancer diagnosed?