Understanding Prostate Cancer

Posted: 29/03/2022

1 in 8 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime and more than 47,500 men are diagnosed every year. It’s important for us all to develop a better understanding of the signs of prostate cancer and know what steps to take to beat it.

What is prostate cancer?

Cancer is when abnormal cells divide in an uncontrollable way, with some spreading into other tissues.

And the prostate is a small gland in the pelvis and is part of the male reproductive system. It is about the size of a walnut and is located between the penis and the bladder, surrounding the urethra. As the prostate is so small not many people know where it is. This can mean it’s often forgotten about, which it shouldn’t be as it’s one of the most common types of cancer in men.

Marcus smaller appointment photo

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer often goes unnoticed because of its lack of symptoms. Physical symptoms are often only felt when the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure of the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the penis).

Once this happens common symptoms include:

  • Needing to pee more frequently, often during the night

  • Needing to rush to the toilet

  • Difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)

  • Straining or taking a long time while peeing

  • Weak flow

  • Feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully

  • Blood in urine or blood in semen

It’s important to note that the presence of these symptoms do not mean you have prostate cancer. Many men experience prostate growth as they age due to a non-cancerous condition called ‘benign prostate enlargement'.

If you experience these symptoms, it is worth a conversation with your GP, just in case they are pointing toward cancer. The earlier the cancer is caught the better the treatment options are and the more likely you are to lead a long and healthy life.

There are some further symptoms that you should not ignore:

  • Bone and back pain

  • Loss of appetite

  • Pain in testicles

  • Unintentional weight loss

If you experience any of the above, it is important you see your GP as soon as possible as these can be indicators that the cancer has spread.

Should I get checked?

If you are over the age of 45 it is worth speaking with your GP about whether or not you need your prostate checked. If you have any of the symptoms outlined you should book to see your GP, but even if you have no symptoms there are some risk factors to be aware of that you should mention to your GP in your discussion.

  • Age: the older you are the more likely you are to get prostate cancer.

  • Ethnic Group: prostate cancer is more likely in black men than in Asian men. This is something your GP will consider if you are interested in a prostate check.

  • Family History: if you have a brother or father who developed prostate cancer before turning 60 or a close female relative who developed breast cancer, your risk may be higher.

  • Obesity: there is some research that suggests a link between obesity and prostate cancer.

  • Diet: research is ongoing in this field but there is some evidence that a high calcium diet can increase your risk.

The best advice is to have a discussion with your GP and raise all your potential risk factors and decide with them if you should get the PSA blood test.

For most men, a check-up every two to three years is enough. However, depending on the results of your first PSA test, your doctor may recommend when you should next get screened.

What is involved in a prostate cancer check?

If you’ve had a discussion with your GP and decided together you’d like to have your prostate checked then here’s what you can expect during your appointment.

  • The GP is likely to ask for a urine sample. This is to check for infection.

  • They take a venous blood sample that will be sent to the lab to check your level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). This is commonly known as a PSA test.

  • Depending on your circumstances the GP may perform a physical exam. During the physical exam, the GP will insert a gloved finger into your bottom and manually check the size of your prostate. While you may feel some discomfort at the sensation, the exam is quick and nothing to feel awkward about. This is about making sure you stay healthy for a long time.

Usually, the GP will use a combination of the above to assess your next steps.

Appointment with patient

What are the possible results?

All clear
Regardless of your risk factors, you may receive the all-clear from the GP. In this instance, they will discuss with you how often you should get screened in the future.

Raised levels of PSA
If your results come back with raised PSA levels it’s important not to panic. PSA testing alone is unreliable and why GPs are likely to perform a physical exam.
If your PSA level is raised it doesn’t mean you have aggressive prostate cancer, indeed many men have slow-moving prostate cancer that has no impact on their lifespan.
If your GP is concerned about your test results, they may recommend an MRI scan before doing further invasive tests.

Confirmation of harmful prostate cancer
If your results are more serious, your GP will explain the next steps and refer you to a team of specialists that will advise on treatment and care. The doctors will use the results of biopsies and scans to identify the stage of the cancer and the corresponding treatments available.

If prostate cancer is caught at an early stage the chances of survival are very good, which is why it’s so important to discuss prostate checks with your GP.

What are the treatments?

For many people with prostate cancer, no treatment will be necessary as the cancer is very slow-moving and depending on age, unlikely to affect lifespan.

When treatment is necessary the aim is always to cure or control the cancer, so it doesn’t affect everyday life and doesn’t shorten life expectancy.

The types of treatments can include:

  • Watchful waiting: this is used if you have very slow-moving prostate cancer to ensure it does not become a danger.

  • Active surveillance: this aims to avoid unnecessary treatment (This is regular tests to check on the cancer. You won’t have any treatment unless these tests show that your cancer may be growing)

  • Radiotherapy

  • Brachytherapy (A form of Radiotherapy)

  • Hormone therapy

  • Trans-urethral resection of the prostate (TURP)

  • High-Intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU)

  • Surgically removing the prostate gland

  • Cryotherapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Steroids

These treatments cover a wide range of types and stages of prostate cancer, with the latter only being used in extreme cases. Treatment plans will always be explained to you fully by your team of specialists, while your GP is also there to support you during this time whether through further explanation or emotional support.

What next?

If you’re worried about your prostate cancer risk, or the risks for someone you love, we recommend booking a Men’s Health Appointment to discuss your concerns and work with one of our expert GPs to decide if screening is right for you. Our friendly team are here to give you world-class private healthcare, so you can be sure your concerns are taken seriously, and you’re given the time you need.

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