Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the UK, accounting for a quarter of all cases of the disease. But what is it, what should you be looking out for and how can it be treated?
Only men have a prostate – a small gland situated just below the bladder which partly surrounds the urethra. It produces part of the fluid that makes up semen.
How many does it affect?
Prostate cancer affects around 40,000 men every year.
Survival rates are improving, with 84% of adult prostate cancer patients who were diagnosed between 2010 and 2011 predicted to survive 10 or more years. Death rates peaked in the 1990s but have fallen steadily since then.
Still, it is the second biggest cancer killer for men behind lung cancer with over 10,000 deaths in 2012.
What are the symptoms?
This is a slow developing cancer, so it’s often hard to spot signs for a number of years.
Symptoms only start to appear when your prostate increases in size so much that it affects other body parts, like your urethra. If the cancer spreads to your bones, you might start to notice other symptoms.
- increased need to urinate
- straining while urinating
- a feeling your bladder has not fully emptied
- pains in your back, hips or pelvis
The difficulty is that many of these signs could be down to a number of other prostate problems like an enlarged prostate. But if you have any concerns it’s always worth going to your GP.
How is it treated?
Unlike many cancers, when prostate cancer is in the early stages your doctor might choose not to treat it, but instead opt for a ‘watchful waiting’ or ‘active surveillance’ option.
This is because some prostate cancers develop so slowly as to never cause problems.
If they do decide to treat it, your options include:
- removing the prostate
- hormone therapy
The hormone therapy will reduce your testosterone levels as it is this hormone that makes the prostate grow and function.
At the early stages, the cancer could be totally removed and ‘cured’.
If your cancer has spread to other organs or your bones, then ‘curing’ it is no longer an option. However, various treatments can manage the symptoms for several years. These include hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
What are the causes?
Unlike lung cancer, there is no one factor that leads to an increased risk of prostate cancer. In fact, there is little evidence to link any outside factor to its development.
Some studies have suggested that working in industries where you are in contact with higher levels of radiation or certain food types might affect it, but the evidence is unclear.
It is more common, however, in older men. Most cases develop in men aged 50 or older and is more common in Afro-Caribbean or African men.
How can you prevent it?
As there is no singular cause like smoking or diet, then preventing it is difficult. However, by catching it early you greatly improve your chances. There are a number of tests to check for it including blood tests, physical examinations and a biopsy. Contact your GP if you have any concerns.