Prostate cancer is a serious issue for men. It’s the second most common cancer diagnosed in men in the UK, and it can be fatal. As part of our contribution to the Movember movement, we’re raising awareness of prostate cancer. Here we’ll explain what it is, what prostate cancer symptoms to look out for, and how prostate cancer is detected and treated.
What is your prostate?
Your prostate is a gland that’s part of your reproductive system. It’s about the size of a golf ball and is found beneath your bladder. It wraps around your urethra, the tube that runs from your bladder through your penis.
Your prostate gland produces some of the fluids that make up semen when you ejaculate. These fluids help sperm survive for longer if they find their way into a vaginal tract.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is caused by cancerous cells developing and spreading through your prostate. These cells can damage your prostate and spread to other areas of your body, forming secondary tumours in other tissues. If left untreated, prostate cancer is often fatal.
It’s not fully understood what causes prostate cancer, but your genetics can make you more likely to develop it. Your risk of prostate cancer increases if you have African-Caribbean or African ancestry and if you have a close family member, like a father or brother, who’s had it. Your risk also increases if you’re obese and eat a diet high in animal fats and processed meats.
What is the main cause of prostate cancer?
It’s not fully understood why some men develop prostate cancer. Cancer is caused by cells multiplying in an abnormal fashion, which is usually due to a change in a cell’s DNA caused by damage or a mutation. You may inherit this mutation from one of your parents. If it's damaged, it may be caused as you age or by your lifestyle, such as eating a diet high in animal fat or by being obese.
What are the 5 warning signs of prostate cancer?
One of the problems with prostate cancer is that it can take time for you to notice the signs that you have it. Cancer can develop slowly and symptoms usually only emerge when the cancerous tumour is large enough to affect the urethra running through the prostate. Prostate cancer is often first detected by a doctor during a routine check-up (more on this later).
As prostate cancer develops and the tumour becomes larger, some men begin to see urinary and sexual symptoms like:
- Urinating more often than usual, particularly at night
- Finding it difficult to stop or start urinating or experiencing a weak or interrupted flow of urine
- Pain or a burning sensation when you urinate or ejaculate
- Blood in your urine or semen
- Sudden erectile dysfunction
Getting checked for prostate cancer
Generally, the earlier prostate cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat and the better the results. But, since it can take time for symptoms to appear, prostate cancer can be hard to detect. This is why getting yourself checked for prostate cancer is so important.
After the age of 30, it’s a good idea to have a regular yearly check-up with your GP who would perform a digital rectal examination on you. This is where your doctor inserts a finger into your bum to check the size and feel of your prostate from inside your rectum. It might not sound too appealing, but it’s fast, painless, and can save your life.
Other than a digital examination, prostate cancer can also be checked for using a type of blood test called a prostate-specific antigen test (PSA test). This detects the presence of a particular substance (a particular antigen) that can arise if you have prostate cancer (although prostate cancer isn’t the only cause of high PSA). A PSA test can help reveal that you may have prostate cancer, and this can then be followed up with other checks like an MRI scan.
Your chances of developing prostate cancer increase as you age, particularly when you’re over 50. Your ancestry will also play a part. Because of this, it’s recommended that you ask your doctor for a regular PSA test if you:
- Are over 50
- Are over 45 and have African-Caribbean or African ancestry
- Are over 45 and have a close family member who has had prostate cancer
Prostate cancer treatments
Today, there are lots of options for treating prostate cancer. The right treatment for you will depend on your medical history, how advanced your cancer is, and if it has spread. Treatment options can include:
- Hormone therapy
- A prostatectomy, where part or all of your prostate is removed
What is the survival rate for prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer can be fatal, but for many men who get timely treatment, it’s not. Survival rates can depend on your age, physical condition, genetics, how you respond to treatment, and how aggressive your cancer is. Five-year survival rates can vary from 30% for cancers that have spread to close to 100% for cancers that are still only in the prostate.
Prostate cancer prevention
Whilst you can’t completely eliminate your chances of developing prostate cancer, there are actions you can take to help reduce your risk, like:
- Losing excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting regular exercise
- Eating a diet rich in a range of fruit and vegetables
- Reducing how much animal fat you eat by cutting back on red meat and high-fat dairy
- Reducing how much processed meat you eat
Where to find support for prostate cancer?
Medical interventions are only a part of treating prostate cancer. Alongside this, many men benefit from other forms of support, like advice on how to manage cancer and treatment and the opportunity to meet other men who are in a similar situation. The following are good places to turn to for more support:
Movember is a movement dedicated to improving men’s health, particularly mental health and health issues surrounding prostate cancer and testicular cancer.
Prostate Cancer UK (PCUK) aims to help more men survive prostate cancer and enjoy a better quality of life with and after it.
Macmillan is a charity that offers emotional, physical and financial support for people with cancer.