Ten important facts about prostate cancer

There are over 40,000 cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in the UK every year and it is the most common form of cancer in men. One of the first signs that you may have developed prostate cancer is that you find yourself needing urinate more often. This and any other symptoms, though, develop very slowly, so prostate cancer is often not diagnosed until it has reached the later stages, so it is vital, that if you do notice a difference in the frequency of your need to urinate, having to strain to urinate or feeling that after urination your bladder is still not empty, then you should consult your GP straight away. These symptoms don’t always mean that you have prostate cancer, though; it could be other conditions that are causing them. Here are ten facts about prostate cancer that you might find useful to know.

1. What is the prostate gland?
The prostate gland is the size if a walnut and it is situated between the penis and the bladder. It is the prostate that produces the fluid that protects and nourishes the sperm in what we know as semen. 

2. Who is at risk of developing prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer can affect any man, but it usually occurs in later life. The exact causes of prostate cancer are not known, but it does occur more often in men of African, or Afro-Caribbean and it is less common in men of Asian descent. There are also indications that if you have a brother or father who had prostate cancer, then there is a slightly higher risk of you developing it.

3. At what age are men susceptible to prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is rarely found in anyone who is under the age of forty and is most commonly found in men who are over the age of 65. The disease is actually very common and not always lethal; studies of autopsies found that as many as 75% of men who died aged over 75 years had prostate cancer. Many prostate cancers are so slow growing that people die of other causes, before the cancer even becomes evident.

4. Monitoring Vs Treatment
Because many types prostate cancers develop so slowly, diagnoses does not always mean that immediate treatment is needed. Treatment can be delayed by something that is known as, active surveillance, which means that the cancer is closely monitored to check for it becoming more aggressive. Currently, around 10% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer elect to delay treatment, but it is estimated that around 40% could delay their treatment.

5. How prostate cancer is tested for
Although there is no one single test for prostate cancer, the most common ones used are a blood test known as a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and the physical test, that most men over the age of 40 will be familiar with, called the DRE, which is the rectal examination. An increase in PSA levels, though, is not a reliable indication of cancer, because it can be caused by other conditions.

6. You can live with prostate cancer
Cancer, of any kind, used to be so feared so much that people even avoided saying the word and it wasn't that long ago that people would say ‘the C word’ rather than even utter its name. Times have moved on though, and, with modern treatments and a better understanding of the disease, cancer is not always the instant death sentence that it was once feared to be. Because prostate cancer usually progresses, so slowly, it is quite possible to carry on for decades without showing any symptoms. There can, of course, be signs of the disease, though, and these include urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

7. Why don’t they just screen men for prostate cancer?
There is a big debate about whether regular screening for prostate cancer would be beneficial. On the one hand, any cancer picked up early is more easily treated, but, on the other hand, tests for prostate cancer are unreliable and they can lead to men undergoing unnecessary treatment.

8. What are the treatments for prostate cancer?
For many men, no treatment at all is immediately required for prostate cancer, other than close monitoring. But, for others, where there is a fear of the cancer spreading further, the treatments include surgery to remove the prostate gland, hormone therapy and radiotherapy. All treatments have their side effects, which is why the treatment of prostate cancer is often best delayed.

9. How can you reduce the risks of developing prostate cancer?
As you would probably have guessed, the way to reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer is through your living healthy lifestyle. Prostate cancer is more prevalent in men who are overweight and who do not get enough exercise. Diet, too, has a part to play and studies have shown that vegetarians are less susceptible to prostate cancer than meat eaters are. Sorry guys, but it’s the usual advice; keep fit and eat plenty of fruit of and vegetables!

10. When in doubt, ask
If you are experiencing an increase in the need to urinate, or you are straining to do so, then you should seek advice from your GP. It also would appear that if you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, you should ask what the options are that are open to you and what the benefits are of treatment as opposed to monitoring.