Most men, it seems, are generally unable to identify any of the signs or symptoms of prostate cancer – despite it being the second most common cancer diagnosed in men in Australia and the third most common cause of cancer death. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer by the age of 85.
According to a survey of 1456 men polled for YouGov, 68 per cent were not aware of any of the symptoms and even among older men – who are most at risk – knowledge is fairly low. In fact, 62 per cent of those aged 50–59 didn’t know any signs, neither did 60 per cent of 60 to 69-year-olds and 54 per cent of 70 to 79-year-olds. And only one in eight men (13 per cent) spotted the most recognised symptom, which is having to – or feeling the need to – urinate more frequently.
So what else do you need to know about prostate cancer?
Where the prostate is
According to Prostate Cancer UK (PCUK), prostate cancer starts in the prostate gland, which is at the base of the bladder and is about the size of a walnut. The prostate gland gets bigger as you age, and its main job is to make the thick white fluid that creates semen when mixed with sperm produced by the testicles.
Initially there don’t tend to be symptoms
Localised prostate cancer (contained inside the prostate) doesn’t usually trigger any symptoms. Signs don’t normally appear until the prostate is big enough to affect the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the penis).
If symptoms do kick in, they’ll likely affect you when urinating
If the prostate does become enlarged, it may lead to an increased need to urinate, straining while you wee, a weak flow, dribbling urine after you finish, and a feeling that your bladder hasn’t fully emptied.
PCUK says that while some men might have urinary problems, “these can be mild and happen over many years, and may be a sign of a benign prostate problem, rather than prostate cancer”. Another cause of such symptoms can be a non-cancerous enlarged prostate, which is very common. But anyone with any symptoms should get them checked by a GP.
Other symptoms of prostate cancer can include lower back pain or rectal pain or discomfort, as well as difficulties relating to sex, such as blood in the semen, pain when ejaculating or erectile dysfunction. Signs of more advanced cancer can include bone and back pain, a loss of appetite, testicular pain and unintentional weight loss.
How it’s diagnosed
Men with symptoms may have a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test, as those with prostate cancer may have a raised PSA level. However, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) says PSA levels can also be raised in benign prostate conditions, or if you have an infection, so a diagnosis of cancer isn’t usually made on a PSA test result alone. Men may also have an examination of the rectum, which involves a doctor feeling inside the rectum using their finger. There may be scans and a biopsy too.
Not everyone needs treatment
Some prostate cancers grow too slowly to cause any problems or affect how long you live, and because of this, many men with prostate cancer will never need any treatment. However, some prostate cancers grow quickly and are more likely to spread, so do need treatment.
The risk factors and who gets it
You’re more at risk of prostate cancer if you’re over 50, if a close relative (father or brother) has had prostate cancer, or if you’re black.
What you can do to decrease your risk
CRUK says there’s evidence that being active might help to lower the risk of developing prostate cancer. Plus, being overweight or obese increases your risk of advanced prostate cancer. Sticking to recommended alcohol limits, eating a healthy balanced diet and not smoking are all thought to be potentially beneficial too.
If you’re concerned about your prostate health and family history, always speak to your GP.
Were you aware of these warning signs and symptoms? Do you have a family history of prostate cancer? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
– With PA
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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.