What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer affects the prostate gland, which is part of the male reproductive system. The prostate produces some of the fluid that makes up semen. Prostate cancer symptoms may include difficulties urinating, pain or a burning sensation when passing urine, urinating more frequently, blood in the urine or semen, and pain during ejaculation. Early prostate cancer usually causes no symptoms.
Who does this affect?
The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. It produces some of the fluid that makes up semen. Prostate cancer affects one in 11 Australian men and is common in the over-65 age group. Around 4,700 Victorian men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Many cases are not life threatening because the cancer can be slow growing and usually occurs in older men.
Riss and Causes
The exact causes of prostate cancer are unknown. However, there are some risk factors we know about, including:
- Getting older – more than half of all cases are diagnosed in men over 70 years of age
- Family history – having a family history of prostate cancer. Your risk is increased if you have a father or brother who had prostate cancer. The risk becomes greater if they were diagnosed at an early age
- Family history of breast cancer – having a strong family history of breast cancer
- Obesity – having a waist circumference of 100 cm or greater could increase your risk.
Researchers are constantly looking at ways to help prevent cancer. Eating a healthy diet can lower your risk of many cancers. Research has found foods containing lycopene’s and selenium probably reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Lycopene’s are found mainly in tomatoes and tomato-based foods, and selenium is naturally found in plant foods such as vegetables, fish and wheat germ. However, we need more long-term research results to prove this.
Early prostate cancer usually causes no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Difficulties starting and stopping urination
- Pain or a burning sensation when passing urine
- Urinating more often than usual, particularly at night
- The feeling that the bladder can’t be fully emptied
- Dribbling urine
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Pain during ejaculation.
All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions usually less serious than prostate cancer. Most enlargements of the prostate are benign, which means they are not cancer and can be easily treated. You should discuss any symptoms with your doctor.
Prostate cancer treatment depends on a range of factors such as the man’s age, physical condition, the stage of his prostate cancer and his personal preference. Prostate cancer can be treated in a variety of ways, so carefully discuss treatment options with your doctor.
- Watchful waiting – sometimes your doctor will advise you that treatment is not needed. However, you will still need to be examined and have PSA tests regularly to monitor any changes. This is usually for older men (over 70) with a slow-growing cancer. This is because older patients with slowly growing cancer are more likely to die of something other than prostate cancer. If the cancer begins to grow too fast or you develop symptoms, then your doctor will discuss treatment to help control your symptoms.
- Active surveillance – means regular PSA tests and repeat biopsies. This is sometimes offered to younger men with a very early-stage prostate cancer. It involves very close monitoring with early treatment for men with evidence that their disease is progressing.
- Surgery – removal of the prostate is called a radical prostatectomy. The operation can be performed by open surgery (the traditional way), or by a ‘keyhole’ (laparoscopic) approach. You can also have a newer type of keyhole surgery called ‘robotic surgery’. This is only available in some cancer centres where they have surgeons trained to perform this technique. Depending on whether the surgery is open or ‘keyhole’, the hospital stay is between one and 10 days. Recovery can take up to six weeks.
- Transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) – if the prostate can’t be removed, TURP surgery may be performed to remove blockages in the prostate to relieve urination problems.
- External radiotherapy – x-rays are used to target and destroy cancer cells. Treatment usually lasts a few weeks, although this depends on the cancer and the person’s general health.
- Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy) – a radioactive implant is placed inside the prostate to target cancer cells.
- Hormone therapy – is often an option for men whose cancer has spread beyond the prostate. Prostate cancer relies on the hormone testosterone for growth. Hormone therapy reduces testosterone levels and ‘starves’ the tumour. Hormone therapy is given either by medication (tablets) or hormone injections. Sometimes, surgical removal of the testes (orchidectomy) is suggested, which has the same effect.
- Complementary and alternative therapies – it’s common for people with cancer to seek out complementary or alternative treatments. When used alongside your conventional cancer treatment, some of these therapies can make you feel better and improve quality of life. Others may not be so helpful and in some cases may be harmful. The Cancer Council Victoria booklet called Understanding complementary therapies can be a useful resource.
- Prostate cancer affects one in 11 Australian men and is most common in men over 65.
- Prostate cancer can be treated in a variety of ways, including watchful waiting, surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.
Possible side effects of treatment include incontinence and impotence – treatment options should be discussed with your doctor.
The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. It produces some of the fluid that makes up semen. Prostate cancer affects one in 11 Australian men and is common in the over-65 age group. Many cases are not life threatening because the cancer can be slow growing and usually occurs in older men.