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What you need to know about the most common cancer to affect men in the UK.
Figures now show that the number of men dying from prostate cancer has overtaken female deaths from breast cancer for the first time in the UK. Here at Medichecks, we believe it’s important to raise awareness and address the facts surrounding prostate cancer, including how easy it is to get yourself tested.
Here are five facts you need to know.
Almost 50,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, making it the most common cancer to affect men. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that lies in front of your bladder, surrounding your urethra and is responsible for making semen. Prostate cancer occurs when the cells in the prostate start growing abnormally and uncontrollably. Some prostate cancers remain localised, in which case treatment may not even be needed, while others can be more aggressive and spread to other parts of the body.
The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age. According to Prostate Cancer UK, those aged over 50 have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer with the average age for diagnosis is between 65 and 69 years. It is possible for men younger than 50 to develop prostate cancer but the risk is much lower.
As well as age, other factors play a role in the risk of developing prostate cancer. Black men and men with a family history, such as a father or brother with prostate cancer, are around 2.5 times more likely to develop prostate cancer. For those who have been diagnosed, being overweight raises the risk of the cancer being aggressive and spreading to other areas of the body.
Prostate cancer causes your prostate gland to become enlarged, putting pressure on your urinary tract and causing problems with urinating. Typical symptoms include difficulty in starting to urinate, a slow or interrupted flow, greater frequency of urination, getting up to pass urine at night and the feeling that you haven’t managed to fully empty your bladder. Other symptoms include stiffness in the lower back, upper thighs and hips as well as having blood in the semen. However, not everyone experiences symptoms and often signs of prostate cancer are first detected by a doctor during a routine check-up. This is why it is so important to get tested.
The most common test for prostate cancer is the total prostate-specific antigen (total PSA) test. Produced by healthy cells in the prostate, PSA is a protein which naturally leaks into the bloodstream, PSA is also produced by cancerous prostate cells. It is normal to have low levels of PSA in the blood as many non-cancerous conditions including prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate), urine infections and even sexual intercourse in the 48 hours prior to the test can raise PSA levels.
Whilst a PSA test is useful for determining levels in the blood to assess whether they are higher than normal, a PSA test should not be used alone to diagnose prostate cancer. Slightly elevated PSA results are particularly hard to interpret. In this situation measuring the free PSA as well as the total PSA can help to work out whether an innocent or worrying cause is responsible. So a positive result does not mean that an individual has cancer and a negative result does not rule out prostate cancer. An elevated PSA result should be discussed further with your doctor, as should the symptoms described above.
Early detection is crucial in prostate cancer. If diagnosed and treated in its early stages then survival rates are high, but if the cancer is detected in its later stages, survival rates can be as low as 25%. Because in its early stages prostate cancer may show no symptoms, a PSA test is an ideal way to check PSA levels in the blood to see if they are elevated.
Even though it is mainly men over the age of 50 that are at risk of developing prostate cancer, you are never too young to measure your PSA levels. Even with no risk factors, knowing what’s “normal for you” when it comes to cancer markers means that you are in a better position to notice a change. An unexpected rise in PSA can be the trigger to investigate further.