facts about prostate cancer

Facts about prostate cancer | 3 min read

The prostate gland is usually the size and shape of a walnut and grows more prominent as you get older. It sits underneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra; the tube men urinate and ejaculate through. Its main job is to help make semen – the fluid that carries sperm.

Prostate cancer occurs when some of the cells in the prostate reproduce far more rapidly than expected, resulting in a tumour. Many prostate cancers grow slowly and are confined to the prostate gland, which may not cause serious harm. However, while some types of prostate cancer grow slowly and may need minimal or even no treatment, other types are aggressive and can spread quickly. Prostate cancer that’s detected early — when it’s still confined to the prostate gland — has the best chance for successful treatment.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase your risk of prostate cancer include:

  • Older age. Your risk of prostate cancer increases as you age. It’s most common after age 50.
  • Race. African men have a greater risk of prostate cancer for reasons not yet determined, and prostate cancer is also more likely to be aggressive or advanced.
  • Family history. If a blood relative has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may have a higher risk. Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2), your risk of prostate cancer may be higher.
  • Obesity. People who are obese may have a higher risk of prostate cancer. In obese people, the cancer is more likely to be more aggressive and more likely to return after initial treatment.

Detecting prostate cancer

Not everyone experiences symptoms of prostate cancer. A doctor often first detects signs of prostate cancer during a routine check-up. Some men, however, will experience changes in urinary or sexual function that might indicate the presence of prostate cancer.

Signs and symptoms

  • A need to urinate frequently, especially at night.
  • Difficulty starting urination or holding back urine.
  • Weak or interrupted flow of urine.
  • Painful or burning urination.
  • Difficulty in having an erection.
  • Painful ejaculation.
  • Blood in urine or semen.
  • Dull pain in the lower abdomen.
  • Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs.

Screening for prostate cancer

There are two screenings for prostate cancer:

  • PSA test. The PSA test is a blood test to help detect prostate cancer. The test, which a GP can do, measures prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in your blood. PSA is a protein made only by the prostate gland. The PSA test helps detect early-stage prostate cancer, especially in those with many risk factors, which allows some to get the treatment they need before the cancer grows and spreads. 
  • Digital rectal examination (DRE). DRE is a test in which the doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum and feels the surface of the prostate through the bowel wall for any irregularities.

Treating prostate cancer

Treatment options are varied and may not need surgery or other radical treatment. Treatment options include:

  • Active surveillance
  • Prostatectomy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Choosing a treatment for prostate cancer

When making treatment decisions, consider the following:

  • Decide after treatment recommendations from a multi-disciplinary team, including a urologist, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, radiologist, nursing, and allied healthcare professionals.
  • Utilise the cancer support services available to increase your understanding of treatment options and potential side effects.
  • Approach your GP if you have concerns or want a second opinion.

Side effects of prostate cancer treatment

Depending on the treatment you undergo, you may experience some of the following:

  • Incontinence (involuntary leakage of urine.)
  • Erectile dysfunction (difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection).
  • Weight gains due to hormone therapy.
  • Depression.

Talk to your healthcare team about ways to manage these side effects and take action to improve your quality of life. 

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