Prostate Cancer - What You Need to Know


Jan 20, 2015 by James

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in British men - around one in eight men will have it at some point in their lives. Presently, around 250,000 UK men are living with prostate cancer, and 40,000 more are diagnosed annually. Yet it seems to be little discussed, certainly in comparison with other health issues, which can leave some people unable to recognise the signs of this disease when they appear. Read on to find out more.


The prostate

Prostate cancer is cancer of the prostate gland, which is a walnut-like gland surrounding the male urethra. Women do not have a prostate gland.

Prostate cancers grow slowly and tend not to spread, so for many men prostate cancer is not life threatening, may not cause any symptoms nor require any treatment. However, for some, symptoms are very noticeable and/or treatment may be needed to prevent the cancer from spreading.


What are the symptoms?

Most men with early prostate cancer do not have any symptoms; however, later symptoms are primarily problems with urination (such as increased frequency, straining, weak flow) and/or pain in the back, hips, and/or pelvis. It is very important to remember that all of these things can be caused by completely different health issues, or simply be the effects of age, but regardless, it is very important to get them checked out at a GP surgery.


Who gets prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer can strike men at any age, but it primarily affects men over 50, with the risk increasing with age (the average age is 70-74). Other groups at increased risk are those with a family history of prostate cancer, or certain types of breast cancer, and black men. Nobody really knows why black men are at increased risk.

It is thought that a healthy lifestyle may be helpful, with recent research suggesting that exercise may be protective.


What next?

Anybody concerned about prostate cancer should visit their GP surgery for advice. The GP is likely to ask questions, and to run several tests (or arrange for these to be done at a hospital). The key tests for prostate cancer include: 

  • Urine test - the patient must supply a urine sample.
  • PSA test - this measures the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood.
  • Digital rectal examination - this is when the doctor touches the prostate, feeling for irregularities on its surface.
  • Urine flow test.
  • Ultrasound scan.

The last two are most likely to be carried out in hospital.

For many men, prostate cancer may be a chronic but little-noticed condition, causing few, if any, problems with daily life. However, for some, who suffer a more aggressive form of the disease, early medical intervention may be vital to stop the spread of cancer and prolong life. Thus, it is important for all men, and for others that they share their lives with, to be aware of the symptoms of prostate cancer and seek prompt medical attention if they appear.