March is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in the UK, with Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub backing cancer support groups and NHS Lanarkshire in urging men to know the importance of getting checked.
The flagship initiative of the national charity Prostate Cancer UK, the campaign aims to raise funds to research a cure and better treatments for the condition, as well as providing key information to encourage men to get checked for any symptoms at the earliest possible stage.
More than 47,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK – that’s 129 men every day. Every 45 minutes one man dies from prostate cancer, equating to in excess of 11,500 men every year. One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s believed 14,000 men in the UK are currently undiagnosed with prostate cancer and have not started their treatment.
Like all cancers, the key to successful treatment and full recovery is an early diagnosis. The good news is that prostate cancer has a near 100% survival rate at five years. However, if the cancer is not caught early enough and spreads to other areas, the survival rate reduces significantly. That’s why recognising the signs and symptoms and getting appropriate checks are imperative, particularly for men aged 50 or over.
PROSTATE CANCER: RAISE YOUR AWARENESS BY KNOWING THE FACTS
What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is cancer that occurs in the prostate – a small walnut-shaped gland in men that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. Usually prostate cancer grows slowly and is initially confined to the prostate gland, where it may not cause serious harm. It is the most common cancer amongst men in the UK, and the second most common amongst men worldwide. Women do not have a prostate, so prostate cancer only occurs in men.
The causes of prostate cancer are largely unknown, but certain things can increase your risk of developing the condition. The chances of developing prostate cancer increase as you get older. Most cases develop in men aged 50 or older, although it can affect younger men too.
For reasons not yet understood, prostate cancer is more common in men of African-Caribbean or African descent, and less common in Asian men. Men whose father or brother were affected by prostate cancer are at slightly increased risk themselves.
What are the Symptoms of Prostate Cancer?
Symptoms of prostate cancer do not usually appear until the prostate is large enough to affect the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine from the bladder out.
When this happens, you may notice things like an increased need to urinate, straining whilst urinating and a feeling that your bladder has not fully emptied. Other symptoms may include blood in the urine or semen, painful urination and other forms of urinary dysfunction.
If you have these symptoms, it does not ordinarily mean you have prostate cancer. It’s more likely they’re caused by something less serious, such as prostate enlargement or a urine infection. It is, however, very important not to ignore any symptoms like this.
What Should I Do If I Suspect Any of the Above Signs?
Make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible if you have any concerns in relation to the above signs or symptoms. Remember, the sooner you get checked out the better things will be, either in terms of putting your mind at rest or getting the right treatment.
Your GP may do a physical examination of the prostate at the appointment (also known as a digital rectal examination). If they’re not sure what’s causing the symptoms, they may order a PSA blood test in the first instance.
The PSA blood test measures the level of prostate-specific antigen in the plasma and may help detect early prostate cancer. It is important to note that PSA testing cannot definitely diagnose or rule out prostate cancer, as up to 15% of men with prostate cancer have normal PSA levels (a false-negative result). Equally, raised PSA levels also cannot tell a doctor whether a man has life-threatening prostate cancer or not. It can, though, be a useful indicator for doctors though in deciding on next steps.
Men are not routinely offered PSA tests to screen for prostate cancer, as results can be unreliable. This is because the PSA blood test is not specific to prostate cancer. Your PSA level can also be raised by other, non-cancerous conditions.
If you have a raised PSA level, you may be offered an MRI scan of the prostate to help doctors decide if you need further tests and treatment. In many cases though, prostate cancer can be ruled out through a combination of checks and tests from your GP and specialist consultants.
Ignoring symptoms or trying to self-diagnose are not recommended under any circumstances. It’s always sensible to see a GP if you are having symptoms, no matter how trivial they may seem.
Prostate Cancer Risk Management Programme for Over 50’s
There’s currently no screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK. This is because it has not been proved that the benefits would outweigh the risks. This does not mean that you cannot ask your GP for a PSA blood test, particularly if you are aged 50 or over.
Instead of a national screening programme, there is an informed choice programme called prostate cancer risk management for healthy men aged 50 or over who ask their GP about PSA testing. It aims to give men good information on the pros and cons of a PSA test.
If you’re a man aged 50 or over and decide to have your PSA levels tested after talking to your GP, they can arrange for it to be carried out free through NHS Lanarkshire. If results show you have a raised level of PSA, your GP may suggest further tests.
Treatment and Living With Prostate Cancer
If you do receive a prostate cancer diagnosis, a key aspect to keep in mind is that in the majority of cases, prostate cancer is a very treatable condition with an excellent survival rate. For many men with prostate cancer, treatment is not immediately necessary.
If the cancer is at an early stage and not causing symptoms, your doctor may suggest either ‘watchful waiting’ or ‘active surveillance’. As prostate cancer usually progresses very slowly, you can live for decades without symptoms or needing treatment.
The best option depends on your age and overall health. Both options involve carefully monitoring your condition. Some cases of prostate cancer can be cured if treated in the early stages. Treatments include surgically removing the prostate and radiotherapy, either on its own or alongside hormone therapy.
All treatment options carry the risk of significant side effects, including erectile dysfunction and urinary symptoms, such as needing to use the toilet more urgently or more often. For this reason, some men choose to delay treatment until there’s a risk the cancer might spread. If the cancer spreads, treatment options may be very different and more limited.
Newer treatments, such as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) and cryotherapy, aim to reduce treatment side effects. Some hospitals may offer them as an alternative to surgery, radiotherapy or hormone therapy. It should be noted that the long-term effectiveness of these treatment options is not known as yet.
To show your support during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, you can accept Prostate Cancer UK’s challenge to raise funds and awareness by walking 11,000 steps a day during the month of March. This is the same number as the amount of men who die each year of prostate cancer.
Each person taking part in the challenge is encouraged to raise at least £50 for Prostate Cancer UK, and can gain their steps by walking, running or evening dancing. Steps can be tracked digitally via a smart watch, an app on your phone or a pedometer.
Alternatively or additionally, you can get behind the fight against prostate cancer by donating to or volunteering with organisations such as Prostate Scotland, Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Support Scotland or Maggie’s Lanarkshire, to name just a few.
In addition to contacting your GP, if you are concerned about prostate cancer or prostate problems, you can telephone one of Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses free of charge on 0800 074 8383. You can also email them or text NURSE to 70004 to request a call back. Further general information about prostate cancer is also available on the NHS website.
Coming Next Week: Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Key Information, Advice and Support for Women