Prostate cancer is the second most common form of male cancer, right behind skin cancer. It develops in the prostate – a walnut-sized gland that sits just below the bladder. Prostate cancer can grow very slowly, but some types are more aggressive and can spread quickly without appropriate treatment.
Some men may not show any symptoms during early stages, but should keep an eye out for:
- frequent urination, especially at night
- difficulty starting or stopping urination
- weak or interrupted urinary stream
- painful or burning sensation during urination or ejaculation
- blood in urine or semen
- deep pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs.
There are many screening tests available to detect prostate cancer early. Men should talk with their doctor about screening tests at the following ages:
- 50 for men who are likely to live 10 years or more
- 45 for men with a father, brother or son diagnosed before age 65
- 40 for men with more than one first-degree relative diagnosed at an early age.
Types of screening tests available to you
Digital rectal exam (DRE)
In short, your doctor feels through the rectum for potential bumps or hard spots on your prostate.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test
PSA is a protein produced by prostate cells. Elevated levels may indicate that you have cancer, but you can still have a high level and be cancer-free. You can also display a normal PSA but still have prostate cancer. This is a blood test.
Prostate cancer biopsy
This is the most effective way to detect cancer and predict whether it is aggressive or growing slowly. A needle is inserted through the skin between the rectum and scrotum, or through the rectum wall. Small tissue samples are then removed and examined under a microscope by a pathologist.
Biopsy and Gleason score
Results of these tests help to determine the potential spread of the cancer. Gleason scores influence the type of treatment your doctor will recommend. A pathologist checks any cell abnormalities and grades the tissue sample.
Prostate cancer imaging
There are also additional tests to track the spread of cancer beyond the prostate – such as an ultrasound, a CT scan, an MRI scan or a radionuclide bone scan.
The good news is …
Prostate cancer usually grows quite slowly, and nine out of 10 cases are found in the early stages. Overall, the five-year relative survival rate is 100 per cent for men with disease confined to the prostate or nearby tissues. Many men live much longer. If the disease has spread far beyond the prostate, the survival rate drops to 28 per cent. So, as uncomfortable as the thought of a ‘digital’ rectal exam may seem, detecting prostate cancer early gives you the best chance of survival. When you take into account these figures, a little discomfort seems a good trade.
Read more at Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.