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Prostate cancer – symptoms, tests and treatment

AXA PPP Healthcare’s Cancer Care Operations Manager, Nurse Evelyn Wallace and her dedicated team of cancer nurses have put together a few of the most commonly asked questions about prostate cancer.

Cancer of the prostate – what is it exactly?

The prostate gland produces the fluid that mixes with sperm to create semen and is located just below a man’s bladder.

Generally slow to develop, having cancer of the prostate may mean it could take quite a while before any symptoms show and consequently it may be a long time before treatment is needed.  Prostate cancer is the most widespread cancer affecting men in the UK and although it does not often occur in men under 40 the risk is increased if a close relative such as a father or brother has been diagnosed under the age of 60.

Unfortunately, if you are under 40 at diagnosis then the cancer is more likely to be aggressive and consequently, the treatment on offer is more likely to be too.

Prostate cancer – what are the symptoms?

Very often prostate cancer symptoms are difficult to detect and sometimes there are no signs at all, but they may manifest themselves in the following ways:

  • You may feel the need to urinate more often, especially at night
  • You may need to rush to the toilet
  • You may find it difficult to start to urinate or have a weak flow
  • You may feel that your bladder hasn’t emptied properly

Other more rare symptoms are pain whilst urinating or blood in the urine (or semen).

Some men also experience lower back pain, bone pain or problems getting or keeping an erection.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should get them checked out.  There may be nothing to worry about as some of these symptoms can be due to a non-cancerous problem or another medical condition, but it is always a good idea to get any symptoms checked out by your GP.  They will want to make sure you get the right diagnosis so you can get the treatment that’s right for you.

Is there a test for prostate cancer?

Currently, in the UK there are no set screening programmes for prostate cancer offered by the NHS.

There are 3 tests that your GP can carry out at the surgery:

  • a urine test to rule out infection
  • a PSA test
  • a DRE test

A Prostate Specific Antigen or PSA test is a blood test that measures the level of PSA in your blood.  PSA is a protein that is produced by cells and increases with age as your prostate gets bigger.  The PSA test is not necessarily a completely accurate indicator of prostate cancer as there could be a number of reasons why your PSA level is raised such as an age-related enlarged prostate or an infection.

A digital rectal examination or DRE test is a physical examination which involves your doctor feeling your prostate through the wall of your back passage (rectum).  This too is not a totally reliable test as the whole of the prostate cannot be felt.

Is prostate cancer preventable?

It is always sensible to eat healthily, maintain a healthy weight for your height and take regular exercise; however, the current thinking is that eating foods such as broccoli, kale, spinach, soy, green tea and pulses may also reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer.

Maintaining a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, cutting out processed meats, eating fewer dairy products and foods high in saturated fat, along with reducing sweets, alcohol and quitting smoking can all help with combating the onset of cancer.

What are the treatments for prostate cancer?

Depending on your age, how the cancer has developed, where it is and your general health there are several treatments available:

  • Radiation or radiotherapy, where cancer cells are killed by radiation beams
  • High-frequency sound waves (high-intensity focused ultrasound) are used to try and eliminate cancerous cells
  • Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy), where cancer cells are killed by directly inserting radioactive materials into the tumour or prostate
  • Hormone therapy which may stop or slow the way your body produces testosterone which in turn may stop or slow the cancer
  • Keyhole or open surgery

Research suggests that if hormone therapy is undertaken alongside radiotherapy then there may be a more effective outcome.

As with any medical treatments, there may be side effects and these can vary widely.  These may include some incontinence, bladder problems, erectile dysfunction, loss of libido and tiredness.  Incontinence can be improved by pelvic floor exercises or medication and there are several effective treatments for erectile dysfunction.

What can be done if the cancer has spread?

If your diagnosis is poor and the cancer has spread to your bones there are treatments that can help ease the pain but there is no cure.  Palliative care may be offered to help prolong life.

Extra reading

If you need more support on how to cope with a terminal diagnosis then read
Coping with a cancer diagnosis

Our team of Dedicated Cancer Nurses is on hand to support not only the patient but friends and family too.

Further useful reading

Cancer Research UK

Prostate Cancer UK

Macmillan

Prostate cancer factsheet

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