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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 one of the most common cancers in the UK, with over 130 men diagnosed every day [1].

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

WHAT IS THE PROSTATE?

The prostate is a gland found in men or people who were assigned male at birth. It sits underneath the bladder, surrounding the urethra (the tube which carries urine out of the body) and secretes fluid that nourishes and protects sperm. A healthy prostate is walnut-sized and grows as you get older.

WHAT IS PROSTATE CANCER?

Prostate cancer can develop when cells in the prostate start to grow in an uncontrolled way. The causes of this are largely unknown. Sometimes it can occur slowly and may not lead to adverse effects or decrease your life expectancy. Other times, prostate cancer grows quickly and may spread – this type of cancer usually requires treatment [2].

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

The early stages of prostate cancer do not commonly cause symptoms [3].

If cancer grows and develops, it may start to press against the urethra, changing the way you urinate 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 [3, 4]

A non-cancerous enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hypertrophy) can cause similar symptoms. If prostate cancer 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
  • Pain in the testicles [3, 4]

Talk to your GP if you are experiencing any of these symptoms or if you are worried about your risk of prostate cancer.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR RISK

In the UK, about one in eight men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime.

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

  • Men aged over 50 yearsThe 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 ethnicityIn the UK, about one in four black men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime, which is double the risk compared with white men.
  • Men with a family history of cancerCompared 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 increase 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, which may help to lower your risk [3].

Prostate Cancer UK offers a quick risk checker to assess your 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 [5]. 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 common prostate cancer tests are:

  • Blood test: A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test is a tool to identify markers that 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 over 50, you may be eligible to have this blood test for free on the NHS. You may also be interested in taking a private PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) Blood Test. If your results show that you have raised PSA levels, your GP may suggest further tests. 
  • Physical 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 produces 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 small piece of tissue being removed from your body to undergo further testing and examination. There are several different types of biopsies used to diagnose prostate cancer [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.

take-home message

If you are experiencing symptoms or are concerned about your risk of prostate cancer, speak to your GP. Prostate Cancer UK offers a simple form that you can fill out and take to your GP, which may make a difficult conversation easier to initiate if you are worried about your risk of prostate cancer or any symptoms you’re having.

A routine test could help to rule any conditions in or out of your health conditions. Cancer is not an easy subject, but by talking about it, we can help to raise awareness of the risks and symptoms of prostate cancer.


REFERENCES

  1. Cancer Research UK. Prostate cancer statistics. [online] Available at: <https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/prostate-cancer#heading-Zero> [Accessed 28 September 2021].
  2. Prostate Cancer UK. 2020. Trans women and prostate cancer. [online] Available at: <https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/are-you-at-risk/trans-women-and-prostate-cancer> [Accessed 28 September 2021].
  3. Prostate Cancer UK. 2019. About prostate cancer. [online] Available at: <https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/about-prostate-cancer> [Accessed 28 September 2021].
  4. NHS UK. 2018. Prostate cancer - Symptoms. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/symptoms/> [Accessed 28 September 2021].
  5. Prostate Cancer UK. Introduction to tests. [online] Available at: <https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/prostate-tests/introduction-to-prostate-tests> [Accessed 28 September 2021].
  6. Cancer Research UK. Tests | Prostate cancer | Cancer Research UK. [online] Available at: <https://about-cancer.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/prostate-cancer/getting-diagnosed/tests> [Accessed 28 September 2021].