In Australia, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men. Around 3,500 men die of prostate cancer each year, which is higher than the number of women dying of breast cancer.
A prostate is a small gland, roughly the size of a walnut, which sits under the bladder and surrounds the urethra in males. It produces most of the fluid that makes up semen, and needs testosterone to grow and develop.
The prostate can grow as males get older. It can cause problems with urinating, however this is not always a symptom or sign of prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is usually a slow growing disease and most men with early stage prostate cancer live for years without symptoms. High-grade prostate disease spreads quickly and can be lethal.
Who is at risk?
The chance of developing prostate cancer increases with age. The risk of getting prostate cancer by the age of 75 is 1 in 7 men. By the age of 85, this increases to 1 in 5.
Family history is also a risk factor for prostate cancer. Having a first-degree male relative with prostate cancer, means there is a higher chance of developing it than men with no family history. The risk increases again if there is more than one male relative with prostate cancer. Risks are also higher for men whose male relatives were diagnosed at a young age.
Men over the age 50, or over the age of 40 but with a family history of prostate cancer, should talk to their doctor about testing for prostate cancer.
In addition, diet can also play a role in increased risk, with evidence suggesting diets high in processed meat and fat can increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.
What are the symptoms?
Most men with early stage prostate cancer live for years without symptoms. Late-stage prostate cancer symptoms can include:
- frequent or sudden need to urinate
- difficulty urinating (trouble starting or poor urine flow)
- discomfort when urinating
- blood in urine or semen
- pain in the lower back, upper thighs or hips.
These symptoms may not mean you have prostate cancer, but if you experience any of them, go and see your doctor.
How is prostate cancer detected and diagnosed?
A doctor will usually do a blood test and/or physical examination to check the health of the prostate.
If your tests show you may be at risk of prostate cancer, you will undergo a biopsy which is the only way a firm diagnosis can be made.
Patients are often referred to the Prostate Cancer Specialist Nursing Service for support. This is a Prostate Cancer Foundation Australia initiative, which supports the placement of nurses in hospitals across Australia in partnership with health service providers.
Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse (PCSN) Russell Reyes is based at St John of God Murdoch Hospital.
He said despite being a common cancer amongst men, there were many misconceptions around prostate cancer.
“Unfortunately, I may sometimes spend 15-20 minutes of my consults breaking myths and misconceptions,” he said.
“I endeavour to spread the word on the work PCFA is doing and the difference all the PCSNs across the country are making for our patients.
“I enjoy using the skills I developed in helping gents to feel that they are not alone in their prostate cancer journey, and that there are people who care and want to lighten their burden.”
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