The Prostate is a small gland and part of the male reproductive system. Its main function is to produce fluid which protects and enriches sperm.
In younger men the prostate is about the size of a walnut and is located below the bladder. It is doughnut shaped as it surrounds the beginning of the urethra, the tube which runs from the bladder through the penis.
How common is Prostate Cancer?
One in 9 men will personally face this most common cancer in Australian men. There are around 20,000 new cases diagnosed each year and some 3,300 deaths. Each day about 32 men are diagnosed and tragically one man dies every three hours. Men in rural and regional Australia have a 21% higher prostate cancer mortality rate than men in capital cities.
How do I know if I have it?
In the early stages cancer in the prostate gland does not usually produce any symptoms. It may be found during routine examination. Symptoms of prostate problems are caused by the prostate growing and narrowing the urethra. As men age it is common for the prostate to grow in size - known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). As the prostate enlarges men may become aware of various urinary symptoms such as:
- the need to urinate frequently, particularly at night;
- sudden urges to urinate;
- difficulty in starting urine flow;
- a slow, interrupted flow and dribbling afterwards;
- blood in the urine and pain during urination.
If you notice any of these problems you should discuss them with your doctor. It should be noted that these symptoms may be a result of other problems of the prostate, not necessarily prostate cancer.
The only way cancer can be diagnosed is through a prostate biopsy. This involves removing samples of prostate tissue by inserting needles into the gland and having them analysed in the laboratory. However there are other tests which may indicate the possibility of cancer.
How can I prevent prostate cancer?
The causes of prostate cancer have not been clearly established. Certain risks, however, have been associated with the disease, including age, family history and diet.
What are the treatment options?
The major dilemma of prostate cancer is that many cancers are slow growing and may not need treating. Cancer of the prostate is treated differently depending upon early or advanced diagnoses.
At an early stage of cancer development, the prostate may be removed surgically (prostatectomy) or treated with radiation therapy. There are several forms of radiation therapy including external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy where the radiation source is placed into the prostate gland (e.g. radioactive “seeds”) or High Intensity Focused Ultrasonic treatment (HIFU). This is a relatively new treatment in Australia and is currently being evaluated. In advanced disease, the treatment is designed to control the cancer. This may be by surgery to remove the testicles, hormone treatment with injection or tablets or possibly chemotherapy.
What should I do?
If you experience prostate problems you should seek medical advice. All men in Australia who have problems with urination should visit their doctor. Even if you don’t have symptoms, if there is a family history of prostate cancer, you should have regular checkups. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment and a possible cure.