Prostate cancer is not a joke. In 2018 it is estimated 17,729 cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in Australia. Sadly more than 3,100 men die every year from the heartbreaking disease.
So let’s find out a little more about prostate cancer and see if you have any symptoms.
Prostate cancer develops when abnormal cells in the prostate, a small walnut-sized gland found only in men, grow uncontrollably and form a malignant tumour.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men, with one in five men diagnosed with the devastating disease by the age of 85.
Thanks to research advancements, the five-year survival rate for men diagnosed with prostate cancer is 95 percent, meaning nearly all patients who present with localised prostate cancer will live beyond five years.
What symptoms might you have?
In the early stages of prostate cancer, there may be no significant or obvious symptoms, which is why regular testing is so important. Some symptoms might include:
- Frequent urination
- Urgent and sudden need to urinate
- Difficulty in urinating
- Pain when urinating
- Weaker than normal stream
- Painful ejaculation
- Blood in urine or semen
- Erectile dysfunction
- Pain in lower back, upper thighs or hips
Whilst these symptoms may not necessarily mean you have prostate cancer, please visit your local doctor if you experience any of these signs.
By the age of 85 a man has a one in five risk of developing prostate cancer.
In its early stages the disease may not produce significant or obvious symptoms making diagnosis and early intervention difficult in some cases.
For many men prostate cancer is often curable if detected early particularly if the disease is confined to the prostate gland. It is therefore important that men who are either 50 years of age and/or have a family history of the disease have regular checkups with their GPs.
The most common methods used to detect warning signs associated with prostate cancer are the PSA test (prostate-specific antigen test) and the DRE (digital rectal examination).
Blood Test (PSA Test): Found in the blood, prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein made by the cells of the prostate gland. The PSA test measures the amount of the PSA protein in a man’s blood sample. Once a blood sample is taken it is sent to the laboratory for testing. The higher the PSA level, the more chance that prostate cancer is present.
Digital Rectal Examination (DRE): Where the doctor examines the prostate for any irregularities in shape and size.
If either of these tests confirm a patient may be at risk of prostate cancer, the doctor will then arrange a biopsy. A biopsy is when an urologist removes small samples of tissue from the prostate, which is then sent off to test if the cells are cancerous or non-cancerous.
What can you do to keep your prostate healthy?
It’s very difficult to prevent a prostate cancer diagnosis, but there are many lifestyle choices men can make to lower their risk and keep the prostate healthy.
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce intake of fats including red meat and dairy products
- Eat more fish. Fish like salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids and other ‘good fats’ that help keep the prostate healthy.
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Increase intake of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods.
- Avoid smoking and only drink alcohol in moderation.
- Make efforts to reduce stress in both work and home life.
Most importantly, while eating well and living a healthy lifestyle does help, it will not eliminate the chance of a prostate cancer diagnosis. Males over the age of 50 or with any of risk factors should discuss prostate cancer with their doctor and be screened for the disease on an annual basis.
There are a variety of treatments available for prostate cancer depending on the extent of the cancer.
Some patients may have surgery to remove their prostate, particularly if the cancer is confined to the prostate gland. This is referred to as a radical prostatectomy, of which there are currently two types:
Retropubic prostatectomy – where the prostate gland is removed through an incision in the abdomen.
Perineal prostatectomy – where the prostate gland is removed through an incision in the perineum.
A prostatectomy can either be done by making a large incision or laparoscopic (keyhole surgery) where a number of small cuts will be made. Thanks to advances in research and technology, patients can now opt for a robotic prostatectomy which is a laparoscopic surgery where a robot assists the surgeon.
Radiotherapy is another way of treating prostate cancer. It can come in two forms, either external or internal radiation therapy.
External beam radiotherapy – radiation is directed from a machine outside of the body towards the prostate.
Internal radiation therapy – small radioactive implants called ‘seeds’ are placed inside the prostate and give off radiation in low doses.
Androgen deprivation therapy (hormone therapy)
Androgen deprivation therapy involves reducing the levels of the androgen hormone (e.g. testosterone) within the prostate, to stop it from helping the prostate cancer to grow or in some cases helping it to shrink.
There are several types of hormone therapy for prostate cancer:
- Surgical removal of male testicles, which produce androgens.
- Administering medication that stops the production of androgen
- Medication that blocks androgen receptors in prostate cancer cells so they can’t receive androgens to help the cancer survive.
Where a patient will be monitored to see if any symptoms develop or change.
If a patient is diagnosed with localised prostate cancer that is low risk, doctors may decide to leave them on active surveillance. As prostate cancer often grows slowly, the side effects of treatment can be worse than the potential benefits for some patients. This surveillance process will include having regular PSA blood tests, along with occasional digital rectal examinations, biopsies or ultrasounds.
Sipuleucel-T is an immunotherapy treatment for prostate cancer which harnesses the patient’s own immune system to seek out and destroy the prostate cancer cells. This is used to treat prostate cancer that is either advanced or has spread to other areas of the body.
So do yourself a favour and go see a doctor just in case.