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Prostate cancer affects 1 in 8 men - who is at risk?

Understanding your risk of prostate cancer is essential to take the necessary next steps for your health.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK with a staggering 129 men being diagnosed every single day.

Most men do not have any signs or symptoms of prostate cancer, especially in its early stages – therefore it is important to understand your risk.

What is the prostate?

The prostate is a gland found in men which secretes fluid that nourishes and protects sperm. A healthy prostate is walnut-sized, and, in the body, the prostate sits underneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra (the tube which carries urine out of the body).

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer can develop when cells in the prostate start to grow in an uncontrolled way. Sometimes this can occur slowly, meaning it will not lead to adverse effects or decrease your life expectancy. Sometimes prostate cancer grows quickly and may spread in the body – this type of cancer may need treating [1].

Signs and symptoms

Early stages of prostate cancer do not commonly cause symptoms [1]. 

If the cancer grows and develops it may start to press against the urethra, changing the way you urinate (wee) and causing symptoms such as:

•    Difficulty urinating or emptying your bladder
•    A weak flow when you urinate
•    A feeling that your bladder hasn’t emptied properly
•    Dribbling urine after you finish urinating
•    Needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night
•    A sudden need to urinate. You may sometimes leak urine before you get to the toilet [1]

It is worth mentioning that a very common non-cancerous prostate condition (enlarged prostate) can cause similar symptoms. However, if you’re experiencing any symptoms, it is important that you visit your GP.

If prostate cancer breaks out of the prostate or spreads to other parts of the body, it can cause other symptoms including: 

•    Back pain, hip pain or pelvis pain
•    Problems getting or keeping an erection
•    Blood in the urine or semen
•    Unexplained weight loss

If you’re concerned you may be experiencing any of these symptoms it is important that you see your GP. This will ensure that you receive the most appropriate treatment if you need it [1].

Understanding your risk

In the UK, about 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime.

Some men may be at a higher risk than others, this includes:

•    Men aged over 50 years. Overall risk of prostate cancer increases with age. The most common age for men to be diagnosed is between 65 and 69 years old.
•    Being of black ethnicity. In the UK, about 1 in 4 black men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime, that is double the risk.
•    Men with a family history of cancer. Compared to a man who has no relatives with prostate cancer, you are two and a half times more likely to get prostate cancer if your father or brother has been diagnosed. Your risk may also be higher if your mother or sister has had breast cancer.

Some lifestyle factors may also increase your risk of experiencing prostate cancer:

•    The latest research suggests that being overweight may increase your risk of being diagnosed with aggressive or advanced prostate cancer. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and keeping physically active can help you stay a healthy weight, and so might help to lower your risk [3].

Prostate cancer UK offers a quick risk checker to assess your own personal risk of developing prostate cancer.

How to get tested

There is no single definitive test for prostate cancer and men are not routinely screened in the UK [4]. 

It is important to be aware that all tests available have pros and cons which your doctor will be able to discuss with you.

The most commonly used tests are:

•    Blood test: A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test is a tool to identify markers which may be raised in prostate cancer. A raised PSA level does not necessarily indicate prostate cancer (it may be a false-positive result) and sometimes men with prostate cancer have normal PSA levels (a false-negative result) [5]. If you are aged over 50 years you may be eligible to have this blood test for free on the NHS. You may also be interested taking a private PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) Blood Test. If your results show that you have raised level of PSA, your GP may suggest further tests.
•    Physical examination: (a digital rectal examination): A doctor or nurse may examine your prostate by inserting a gloved finger into your rectum (bottom). It is usually very quick, and you should not feel any pain.  
•    MRI scan: A type of scan that produced detailed images of the inside of the body. If the scan shows a problem, it can be targeted later with a biopsy 
•    Biopsy: A biopsy involves a piece of tissue being removed from your body for it to undergo further testing and examination. There are several different types of biopsy used to diagnose prostate cancer, you can read more about biopsies here [6].

Your GP will be able to assess your risk of having prostate cancer based on a number of these factors, including your PSA levels and results of examinations. 

The most important takeaway from this, is that if you are simply concerned about your risk, or you are experiencing symptoms, that you speak to your GP. Prostate Cancer UK offers a simple form which may a difficult conversation easier to initiate. 

Cancer is not an easy subject, but by speaking up we can help ourselves at the same time as raise awareness. 

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References

[1] https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/about-prostate-cancer
[2] https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/are-you-at-risk/infographic-what-is-my-risk
[3] https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/are-you-at-risk/can-i-reduce-my-risk
[4] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/
[5] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/psa-testing/
[6] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/diagnosis/