What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in the prostate that form a lump (tumour). In time, without treatment, it may spread to other organs, particularly the bones and lymph nodes, which can be life threatening. Generally at the early and potentially curable stage, prostate cancer does not have obvious symptoms. This makes it different from other benign prostate disorders, which may result in urinary symptoms.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
In the early stages of prostate cancer, there may be no symptoms at all. As prostate cancer develops, symptoms can include the need to urinate frequently, particularly at night, sudden urges to urinate, difficulty in starting urine flow, a slow, interrupted flow and dribbling afterwards, pain during urination or blood in the urine or semen.
NOTE: It is important to note that these symptoms are not always signs of prostate cancer. They can also be symptoms of other common and non-life threatening prostate disorders. Men who experience these symptoms should see their doctor immediately, to determine the cause and best treatment.
What testing methods are available?
There is currently no population based screening for prostate cancer and this leads to confusion amongst men and their doctors. There are issues related to testing and treatment which should be discussed prior to making a decision whether to be tested. For more information go to: www.prostate.org.au/testing-for-prostate-cancer.php
Two simple tests can be done by a doctor:
The Digital Rectal Examination (DRE). The doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland. This may detect hard lumps in the prostate before symptoms occur
The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test. This test measures the amount of PSA in the blood. PSA blood test is not a cancer specific diagnostic test however it will alert doctors to abnormal growth in the prostate. A combination of both a DRE and PSA blood test is recommended. These tests should be considered as part of a general male health check annually from 50 years of age or 40 if there is a family history of prostate cancer. If either the DRE or PSA tests are abnormal, the doctor may conduct a second series of tests or refer to a Urologist, who may recommend a biopsy. The biopsy is a definitive way of diagnosing prostate cancer and will determine the stage (how far the cancer has spread) and grade (how rapidly it is likely to spread). This information is used to determine the risk the cancer poses to the man’s health and life expectancy.
NOTE: Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) research indicates that most men who have had the DRE test said it was a simple, painless exercise.
Who should be aware of prostate cancer and what should they do?
It is recommended that men aged 50 and over should talk to their doctor about prostate cancer and if they decide to be tested, to do so annually. If there is a family history of prostate cancer; men should talk to their doctor from the age of 40.
What is the overall risk of developing prostate cancer?
A man has a 1 in 5 risk of developing prostate cancer by the age of 85* A man with a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer (brother or father) has at least twice the risk. Men in rural and regional Australia have a 21% higher prostate cancer mortality rate than men in capital cities**.
(*Australia Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2008. AIHW cat.no. CAN 42. **Michael D Coory and Peter D Baade. Medical Journal of Australia 2005; 182 (3): 112-115. Urban-rural differences in prostate cancer mortality, radical prostatectomy and prostate-specific antigen testing in Australia.)