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Prostate Cancer: What You Need To Know

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, second only to skin cancer, and one of the leading causes of death. But what is prostate cancer, and what can you do to prevent it?


What is it?

The prostate is part of the male reproductive system. It’s a gland in the pelvic area that produces the fluid which helps make semen, and is located underneath the bladder, in front of the rectum. Prostate cancer occurs when prostate cells grow uncontrollably and develop into malignant tumours. These cancer cells often spread to nearby areas such as the seminal vesicles and the bladder.

Currently, its exact cause is still under investigation, but there are several risk factors that may affect your likelihood to develop the cancer.


Am I at risk?

Certain factors put you at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. These include:

  • Age. As you age, your risk increases. Prostate cancer is considerably rarer in men below 40, and increasingly common in those above 55.
  • Race. Prostate cancer is, by far, most likely to affect African Americans: they are not only more likely to develop it, but also more likely to develop it at a younger age, and to have it spread more quickly. However, Hispanic and Asian men are at somewhat at lower risk.
  • Other conditions. Men with preexisting conditions, especially other forms of cancer – notably, testicular and bladder cancer – as well as benign tumours are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. Immune system diseases can also make you more prone.
  • Family history. If other men in your family have developed prostate cancer, or any other form of cancer, you are up to three times as likely to also develop it in your lifetime. If women in your family have a history of breast or ovarian cancer, you may also be more prone to prostate cancer. Cancers are often hereditary.
  • Diet. A lack of vitamins from fruit and vegetables, or an excess of fats and meat can increase the risk factor. It’s important to maintain a healthy diet to reduce your proneness to many different types of cancer.
  • Lifestyle. Staying active can also decrease your likelihood of developing the cancer. At an older age, even walking and stretching regularly can help.
  • Weight. Being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk. The cancer is more likely to develop, but also likely to be more aggressive, and more likely to return.
  • Smoking. Regular smoking can double your risk of developing and dying from prostate cancer. Quitting may not null this increase until 10 years later, but it does immediately decrease your risk considerably.

If, because of these risk factors, you are at a higher risk, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor and start screenings early.


What symptoms should I look for?

In its early stages, prostate cancer may not be noticeable. Despite this, there are certain warning signs you can keep an eye out for.

  • Difficulty urinating
  • Burning or pain during urination
  • Persistent pain in the pelvis or pelvic area
  • Weight loss
  • Constant need to urinate
  • Pain during ejaculation
  • Blood in urine or unnaturally dark urine
  • Blood in semen
  • Lack of appetite
  • Persistent bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Difficulty controlling the bladder

If you notice two or more of these symptoms constantly affecting your life, visit your local GP and discuss the possibility of prostate cancer.


How can I get diagnosed?

The first step to a diagnosis is a screening. One of the most common screening methods is a PSA blood test. A PSA test, or a prostate-specific antigen test, checks for PSA in the blood. PSA is a protein made in the prostate, and abnormally high levels may indicate a problem. Low PSA levels typically mean a healthy prostate.

Coupled with this may be a DRE, or a digital rectum examination. The doctor feels the prostate by inserting a finger into the rectum, and checks for abnormal lumps or thickness. These two tests together cannot identify the type or stage of the cancer, but can signify cancer may be present.

If there are noticeable abnormalities, your doctor may suggest a biopsy. A prostate biopsy is a form of surgery where prostate cells are removed and examined in a laboratory. The surgeon will be able to detect cancer cells and the type of cancer, as well as the stage.


What treatments are available?

Treatment plans depend on the severity of the cancer, your age and health, and what your healthcare team sees fit. It’s likely they will develop a combination treatment plan most suited to you.


If the cancer is lower stage and has not yet spread vastly to other parts of the body, a surgery can be performed to remove the prostate. Depending on the experience of the surgeon and your health, you may go through a Robotic Assisted Laparoscopic Radical Prostatectomy (RALP), Retropubic Open Radical Prostatectomy, or a Laparoscopic Radical Prostatectomy. Since the prostate is removed, the cancer cannot recur unless it is also present elsewhere in the body.

For cancer that is more developed and/or has spread beyond the prostate, surgery may not be viable, or may need to be coupled with other treatments.


Radiation therapy is a favoured treatment for many cancers, and uses high-energy gamma rays to kill tumour cells in a targeted location. It can be carried out through external radiation or internal radiation, the latter having a radiation-emitting device placed inside the body. Often, this is paired with chemotherapy, which kills tumour cells by chemicals taken in pill or shot form. These treatments may remove small tumours or shrink them for removal by surgery. They can also be used to treat recurring cancer.

Cryotherapy is another option, especially for those with health issues meaning they are not candidates for radio or chemotherapy. Done under anaesthetics, cryotherapy freezes the prostate glands and kills cancer cells. It may also be carried out after shrinkage of the tumour.

Sometimes, treatments like HIFU and electroporation are used, but depend on your health and the doctor’s recommendation. Again, they can be used in conjugation with other treatments. HIFU, or high-intensity focused ultrasound, uses sound waves to overheat the tumour and kill its cells. Irreversible poration does the same by passing an electric current and forming holes, or pores, in the tumour.

Immunotherapy strengthens the immune system, and can be used as a treatment to help the body fight cancer on its own, or as a supplement for the weakening of the immune system by cancer or other treatments.

Certain treatments can lead to side effects, such as bladder control difficulties and erectile dysfunction. Depending on how you have healed, your doctor may suggest various supplementary treatments. Medication can help with bladder control and irritation, and surgery can help heal seminal vesicles and the bladder.


Is there anything else I should know?

Fighting cancer can be hard, but treatments are improving, and more people are recovering each year. It’s important to monitor your symptoms, since an early diagnosis can lead to easier treatment.

If you have been diagnosed, maintain contact with friends and family, and take care of your emotional health. Find a healthcare team that caters to your needs and best interest. You can find additional resources for treatment, diagnosis, and more on

Make sure to support cancer prevention and cancer survivors. Awareness is a key factor in prevention, so share reliable information with people around you. If you can, donate to charities and support cancer research.

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