Only men have a prostate. It is a gland that no one would know even exists and it secretly wraps itself around the urethra below the bladder and produces the fluid in semen.
However, prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in men and occurs when abnormal cells develop within the gland to produce a tumor.
Most of these tumors grow very slowly and cause no symptoms for many years and never cause a concern, whilst others can be aggressive and be life-threatening.
Like most cancers, early cancers may not give any symptoms as the cells change within the gland.
Symptoms usually occur once the cancer has grown large enough to cause problems with the urethra or bladder. The symptoms felt can also correlate with other conditions, some benign, so if you experience any of the following you should see your GP:
- Frequent urination
- Difficulty or pain when urinating
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Lower back, thigh or hip pain
If you experience such symptoms your GP will most likely first consent to do an examination to feel your prostate. This will check for anything unusual in its shape and size. They then may organize some tests such as a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test to measure a protein produced by your prostate or / and an MRI scan to look at the prostate in detail.
The only way to diagnose the cancer is via a biopsy, where cells are taken from the prostate via a fine needles and examined under a microscope. This will occur if any of the above are abnormal.
Exactly what causes prostate cancer is unknown. However the following have been identified as increasing your risk:
- Family history
- Older age
- Caucasian ethnicity
Carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene which can increase risk of breast or ovarian cancer in women.
Currently there is no nationwide screening for prostate cancer in Australia as current blood tests are not reliable enough. The PSA test is available but it can be high for reasons other than cancer, some do not agree what is a normal or abnormal PSA level, most with a slightly raised PSA have a normal biopsy and most prostate cancers are low risk, slow growing and unlikely to cause harm if left untreated or treatment of these can cause more harm than good.
However if you do have any of the above risk factors or symptoms please discuss the PSA test with your doctor to make an informed decision as to whether you may or may not benefit from such a test.
Prostate cancer is treated depending on its stage and aggressiveness. Treatment includes watchful waiting, active surveillance, removal of the prostate, medication or radiotherapy.
If you have any symptoms of concern or wish to find out more please discuss them with your GP or head to the prostate cancer foundation of Australia or the Cancer Council.