It is recommended that all men talk to their doctor, nurse or a health professional about prostate cancer from the age of 50, or earlier if they have a direct family member who has ever been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The good news is that if caught early enough, prostate cancer can be managed well and can usually be treated.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a small walnut-shaped gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It sits below the bladder opening, in front of the rectum and surrounds part of the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the end of the penis). The prostate’s function is to secrete semen. From the age of 50, the prostate gland often increases in size, which can cause problems when men urinate.
Symptoms of prostate cancer
Early prostate cancer causes no symptoms. As the cancer grows, it can produce warning signs that are most noticeable with urination habits. These include needing to urinate more often, trouble starting or stopping urination, and often getting up at night to go to the toilet. These symptoms are not always attributable to prostate cancer, but it is important to get them checked by a doctor or Urologist (a doctor who specialises in the treatment of the urinary system) if you are experiencing them.
Risks of prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is rare in men aged under 50 but more common as men get older, with around a 10% chance of having it once you are over 70. Men who get prostate cancer before the age of 70 are more likely to need treatment because younger men will live with their cancer for longer and there is more time for it to progress and cause problems. Men with a father or brother with prostate cancer are more than twice as likely to develop it. You can reduce the seriousness of a prostate cancer diagnosis by finding the cancer early and adopting a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a balanced diet - but it is vital for men to talk to a health professional and have regular check-ups.
Checks & tests
Having a prostate check-up won’t tell you if you have prostate cancer but assesses your risk of having it. Checks usually involve two procedures:
A blood test called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test measures the level of PSA in your blood. The prostate gland makes PSA, therefore results can show higher than normal levels of it which could be caused by an infection, an enlarged prostate (not cancer) or prostate cancer. Most men with a higher than normal PSA level won’t have prostate cancer, however higher levels do increase your overall risk of having prostate cancer.
A digital rectal examination (DRE) is a quick way for your doctor to check for prostate problems. The doctor will place a gloved finger into your rectum to feel the surface of your prostate. If your prostate feels rough, hard or irregular, you are more likely to have prostate cancer.
It’s important to remember that some men with prostate cancer will still have normal PSA levels and some DREs may not find very small cancers.
Your doctor will discuss your prostate check results with you and refer you to a specialist if they indicate that you have a higher risk of prostate cancer. The specialist will then usually recommend having a biopsy (a test that looks at a sample of your prostate cells to confirm if you have cancer). If your biopsy confirms prostate cancer, your specialist will discuss treatment options with you and the risks and benefits of each option.
Prostate checklist for men
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, talk to a health professional and arrange a prostate check as soon as possible:
Urinating more often.
Trouble getting started or difficulty stopping urination.
Poor urine flow or dribbling.
Getting up frequently at night to urinate.
Blood in your urine.
Pain in your lower back, hips or ribs.
A family history of prostate cancer and being over 40 years old.
50 to 70 years old.