What is prostate cancer?
Currently, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men – with more than 50,000 men being diagnosed in the UK every year.
It is a type of cancer that starts in the cells of the prostate gland. The prostate gland is made up of several types of cells, including glandular cells, which produce prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and other substances that are important for prostate function, and stromal cells, which provide structural support to the gland. Prostate cancer most commonly develops in the glandular cells, but it can also occur in the stromal cells.
Prostate cancer is a slow-growing cancer, and many men with prostate cancer do not experience any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, as the cancer grows and spreads, it can cause a variety of symptoms, including urinary symptoms, pain, and sexual dysfunction.
If left untreated, prostate cancer can spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, lymph nodes, and other organs, which can be life-threatening.
What are potential symptoms of prostate cancer?
Many men with prostate cancer do not experience any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, as the cancer progresses, it can lead to various symptoms due to its growth and spread in the body.
- Urinary symptoms: Prostate cancer can press on the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body, which can cause urinary symptoms, such as a weak or interrupted urine stream, frequent urination, and the need to urinate at night.
- Pain: Prostate cancer can cause pain in the lower back, pelvis, hips, or upper thighs. The pain may be constant or intermittent, and it may be severe or mild.
- Sexual dysfunction: Prostate cancer can cause sexual dysfunction, such as difficulty getting an erection, reduced sex drive, and problems with ejaculation.
- Other symptoms: In rare cases, prostate cancer can cause other symptoms, such as blood in the urine or semen, pain during ejaculation, or swelling in the legs.
It is important to note that these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, and they do not necessarily mean that you have prostate cancer. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to your GP for proper evaluation and treatment. Early detection and treatment of prostate cancer can improve the chances of a successful outcome.
Who is most at risk?
Several factors can increase the risk of developing prostate cancer, including:
- Age: The risk of prostate cancer increases with age. Most cases of prostate cancer occur in men over the age of 50, and the risk of developing prostate cancer increases with each decade of life.
- Family history: Men who have a family history of prostate cancer, especially a father or brother with the disease, are at an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.
- Race: Prostate cancer is more common in Black men than in men of other racial groups. Black men are also more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive forms of prostate cancer and to experience poorer outcomes from the disease.
- Diet: Some research suggests that a diet high in red and processed meats and low in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of prostate cancer.
- Obesity: Men who are obese or have a high body mass index (BMI) may be at an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.
Reduce your risk of prostate cancer
While there is no sure way to prevent prostate cancer, there are steps that men can take to reduce their risk of developing the disease.
If you are over 50, you can ask your GP for a PSA test for free on the NHS. If your PSA levels are elevated or your doctor is concerned about the results of other tests or your symptoms, they may order an MRI scan of your prostate to determine if there is a problem. If the scan shows a problem, then a further biopsy will help confirm if cancerous cells are present.
Eat a healthy diet
Men should aim to eat a diet that is low in red and processed meats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Some research suggests that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits may help to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Regular physical activity may help to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Men should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week.
Maintain a healthy weight
Men who are obese or have a high BMI may be at an increased risk of prostate cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise may help to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Avoid tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption
Men who smoke or use tobacco products may be at an increased risk of prostate cancer. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption may also increase the risk of prostate cancer.
Get checked for prostate cancer
There are several ways to get checked for prostate cancer. The most commonly used ones are:
- Digital rectal examination (DRE): This is also known as a physical examination of your prostate. During a digital rectal examination (DRE), a healthcare provider inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland for abnormalities. While a DRE is not a reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer, it can help to detect abnormalities that may require further evaluation.
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test: The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a protein produced by the prostate gland, and higher levels of PSA in the blood may be a sign of prostate cancer or other prostate problems. The PSA test is not a reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer on its own, as there are other conditions such as an urine infection or inflammation that can also make your PSA level rise. Regardless, it can be used in combination with other tests to help diagnose the disease.
- Prostate Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure in which a small sample of tissue is removed from the prostate gland and examined under a microscope to look for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only way to definitively diagnose prostate cancer.
It is important to note that no single test is a reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer. If you have concerns about prostate cancer, it is important to talk to your GP about your risk factors and whether you should be screened for the disease.
Your GP will consider your individual risk factors and preferences when deciding whether and how to screen for prostate cancer.
Want more information?
- Prostate Cancer UK - Provides information about prostate cancer, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and support services.
- NHS - Run by the UK's National Health Service, this website provides reliable and up-to-date information about prostate cancer.
- Cancer Research UK - Offers a range of resources and support services for people affected by prostate cancer.