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68% of men in the UK don’t know that being overweight is a risk factor for prostate cancer, which is the most common cancer among men. The disease kills more than 11,250 men each year, but rates are set to double in the next 15 years.
What is prostate cancer?
The prostate gland lies in front of the rectum at the base of the bladder and produces fluid. Prostate cancer occurs when normal prostate cells become abnormal and start to disrupt the structure of the prostate over time. Depending on how abnormal the cells are, the cancer may grow and cause problems either around the prostate or further away, if it spreads.
What are the symptoms?
Most early prostate cancers have no or few symptoms. However, as the urethra (the outlet for the bladder) passes through the prostate, when symptoms are present they can include problems passing urine, blood in the urine, bowel problems and erection problems.
If the prostate cancer has spread to other sites, such as the bones or lymph nodes, it may cause pain – which is most commonly in the back.
Who is most at risk of prostate cancer?
Although prostate cancer is most often found in men over 70, 46% of diagnoses are in those under the age of 70. Men who have fathers, brothers or grandparents with prostate cancer may be at increased risk, especially if they developed prostate cancer at a young age. Men of Afro-Caribbean descent may also have an increased risk.
Understanding the risk factors
Recent research conducted on behalf of BMI Healthcare revealed a surprising number of men weren’t aware of certain risk factors involved in developing prostate cancer. 52% of the men surveyed weren’t aware that family history is a risk factor, and 42% didn’t know that age also plays a part in the incidence, mortality and survival rates of the cancer.
97% of men in the UK didn’t know that being tall affects their risk of developing prostate cancer, while 87% weren’t aware that ethnicity also plays a part, as does taking anabolic steroids. With 1 in every 8 males in the UK estimated to develop prostate cancer, awareness is key as preventable lifestyle factors can contribute to the risk.
From healthy eating to exercise and even weight loss surgery, different measures can reduce susceptibility to cancer. Early warning signs are also important to improve chances of a localised diagnosis.
What are the different stages of prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is divided into low, intermediate and high risk, which is determined through certain tests. If the cancer is confined to the prostate, it’s known as localised prostate cancer. If it is not confined to the prostate but hasn’t spread to distant sites, it’s known as locally advanced prostate cancer. Prostate cancer that has spread to distant sites, most commonly the lymph nodes or the bones, is called metastatic prostate cancer.
How is prostate cancer detected?
Most men are referred to specialists because of a raised prostate specific antigen (PSA) – a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland. However, this doesn’t always mean cancer is present. At an initial appointment, further tests may include urine testing, blood tests, scans and biopsies. A rectal examination will be performed and the prostate examined for abnormal areas. The only way to diagnose prostate cancer absolutely is to take small samples of the prostate through a biopsy.
What treatments are available?
Treatment depends on the patient’s age, prostate size, medical problems, previous surgery and local expertise, which the patient’s specialist will help decide. Patients with intermediate and high-risk cancer with a good life expectancy generally prefer treatment options such as surgery or radiation to the prostate.
Radiation kills the cells in the prostate by burning them and can be given either from outside the body or directly into the prostate (brachytherapy), while surgery can be either open or keyhole.
Another option can be to try and target a specific area of cancer in the prostate with focal treatment using ultrasound (HIFU) or laser light to destroy cancer cells. As focal prostate cancer treatment is still evolving, it’s not routinely available.
If prostate cancer has spread, hormones are the most common treatment – either with or without chemotherapy. In men with shorter life expectancies and localised or locally advanced prostate cancer without symptoms, deferred hormonal treatment may be an option.
Prostate mapping is a process by which men suspected of having prostate cancer or men with a diagnosis of prostate cancer can be more certain of their true risk. It uses MRI imaging techniques that give doctors a much more detailed image of the prostate. They then take biopsies using a template, taking many more samples than in a typical biopsy.
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