What is the prostate?
The prostate is the gland which sits immediately below the bladder and surrounds the urethra, the tube which drains urine and semen from the body. The prostates role is to make half of the semen, so none of us would be conceived naturally without the prostate! The prostate grows as a man ages. The prostate is the size of a walnut when a man is twenty years old but on average grows to about the size of a plum by the time he reaches seventy. In some men it may grow to the size of a small orange.
How common is prostate cancer?
Interestingly, almost all men if they live long enough will develop prostate cancer; however most men will never know they had it. A small proportion of men will get an aggressive form of prostate cancer which requires treatment. Unfortunately, prostate cancer is the biggest male cancer killer with 10,000 deaths a year in England and Wales (prostatecanceruk.org, 2013).
Prostate cancer does not normally cause any symptoms until there is a reasonable sized tumour within the prostate. Prostate cancer can produce a wide range of diverse symptoms however men’s concerns regarding the presence of the tumour are usually raised when they experience urinary problems. Although, water work symptoms including getting up at night and a poor flow are normally due to benign (non-cancerous) changes in the prostate, it is important to get checked by the GP.
How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
PSA blood tests performed by a GP can provide a means of early diagnosis, however these tests are not fool proof but remain the best available test at present. Prostate cancers are also diagnosed by ultrasound scans, biopsies and multi-parametric MRI scans.
A biopsy details how aggressive and extensive the tumour is which provides treatment options. Some men are put on active surveillance, in which a careful eye is kept on the cancer but no treatment occurs until a sign that the cancer has become more aggressive, avoiding side effects such as urinary leakage, loss of erectile functions and bowel and bladder frequency. Aggressive or extensive cancers are treated using surgery and/or radiotherapy.