The prostate is a small gland that sits just below the bladder and surrounds part of the urethra (the tube urine flows through). The prostate produces some of the fluid that makes up semen.
Prostate cancer is when cells within the prostate grow and divide abnormally leading to a cancerous tumour in the prostate. Prostate cancer can either be slow-growing and unlikely to affect quality of life, or it can be fast-growing and life-threatening.
Am I at risk?
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. It mainly affects men over 60 and is very rare in men younger than 45.
As well as getting older, having a father or brother with prostate cancer increases your risk, particularly if it was diagnosed before the age of 60. It is therefore important to let your doctor know if you have a close family history of prostate cancer so they can help you make a decision about whether prostate cancer testing is right for you.
General prostate problems
It is very common for men over 50 to experience one or more of the following:
- a need to urinate more often
- a frequent, urgent need to urinate
- difficulty starting
- a slow or stop-start stream
- leaking or dribbling after urinating.
In most cases these symptoms are caused by a non-cancerous, enlarged prostate – a common problem in men as they age. An enlarged prostate does not lead to prostate cancer, however, you should speak to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
Low-down on prostate cancer testing
Because testing for prostate cancer is not straight forward, and because there are risks associated with testing and treatment, deciding what to do can be confusing. The best approach is to have an open discussion with your doctor so you can make an informed decision about whether testing is right for you, based on your age and family history.
Testing usually starts with a blood test to measure levels of prostate specific antigens in the blood (a PSA test).
This test will not confirm if cancer is present but the results can indicate if further investigation, such as a biopsy, might be necessary.
Research is focused on finding a test that can identify which prostate cancers require treatment and those which are unlikely to cause harm.
Questions for your doctor
- What is prostate cancer and what tests are available?
- What is my risk of prostate cancer?
- What are the pros and cons of early detection?
- Before I make a decision about PSA testing, what else should I know?
David just turned 55 and received the National Bowel Cancer Screening kit in the mail. This got him thinking about other aspects of his health, including talking to his doctor about prostate cancer. He wonders if his male family members and friends are doing anything about their health.