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Richard Bevan
Updated: 27 February 2012 18:29 | By Richard Bevan, contributor, MSN Him

Prostate cancer: know the facts



Prostate cancer: know the facts (© Getty Images)

Movember aims to raise awareness about important men's health issues, most notably prostate cancer. How much do you know about a disease that remains the most common cause of cancer in men in the UK, accounting for nearly a quarter of all new male cancer diagnoses?

Each year Movember calls on as many people as possible to get involved to help raise awareness of prostate cancer and the support the organisation, along with its health partners, provides to those affected.

The current lifetime risk of men in the UK developing prostate cancer is one in 10. It's for this reason that being aware of the disease, treatments and some preventative measures is important for men of all ages.

More Movember features on MSN Him

What is prostate cancer?

Even though there are around 200 different types of cancer, prostate cancer is unique to men and develops when there is an abnormal growth of cells in the prostate gland. Before you start getting nervous, it's important to mention that this kind of cancer is normally seen in men over 60. Over 80% of cases are related to men aged 60 years of age and over.

It is rare for prostate cancer to be diagnosed in guys under 35. However, it is never too early to start putting into practice a healthy lifestyle and eating regime in order to help prevent prostate cancer or prostate-associated problems later on in life.

A brief nutritional guide at the end of the article will help readers identify some of the best cancer-beating foods.

Learn more about prostate cancer at The Prostate Cancer Charity website (© The Prostate Cancer Charity)

Suresh Rambaran, a support and information nurse at The Prostate Cancer Charity was interviewed for this article. The charity is the UK's leading voluntary organisation working with people affected by prostate cancer.

Symptoms

The prostate gland is about the same size as a walnut and fits under the bladder. So there's only one effective way of checking it - and that's through the somewhat embarrassing and uncomfortable application of a doctor's latex adorned finger into the rectum. There's no way of avoiding this intimate inspection if you want to put your mind at rest and avoid greater discomfort and distress.

Prostate cancer is treatable if caught early. And so a little anal probing from a stranger in a private room is a small price to pay if it saves your life! It's not as if you're on CCTV.

However, there are various signs that may indicate it prudent and wise to seek medical advice before subjecting yourself to your GP's cold digits.

Symptoms that may not necessarily be due to cancer but other prostate conditions can include:

  • A weak or reduced flow of urine leading to going to the toilet more frequently, especially at night
  • Having difficulty passing urine or having to rush to the toilet
  • Experiencing pain in the testes when passing urine or ejaculating

Other prostate problems

Mr Rambaran emphasised that there may be other conditions that can cause problems such as inflammation or infection of the prostate (prostatitis) which can cause some of the aforementioned symptoms, including stinging when passing urine.

Doctor discusses prostate ultrasound scan with a patient (© Rex Features)

Either way it is still advisable that you consult your GP if you are showing any of the above signs and in particular experiencing pain when going to the toilet.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate, which is more common in men as they grow older as the prostate gland slowly gets bigger.

If you have a tendency to 'dribble' or not totally empty your bladder after going to the toilet (a classic symptom of turning into Victor Meldrew) this condition is more likely to be due to the effects of BPH, which can also obstruct passing water. Again, the advice is get checked if you are noticing extreme reactions or pain of any kind.

Risk factors

Men over 60 years of age should be aware of symptoms that could indicate more serious problems with the prostate.

Do you for instance have a family history of prostate cancer that has affected your father or a grandfather?

Doctor talking to patient (© Getty Images)

Another factor is ethnic origins, particularly men of Afro-Caribbean descent, where the risk of developing prostate complications is three times higher than in Caucasian men.

It is advised that men from these ethnic backgrounds get checked in their 40s.

Methods of diagnosis

Although it is not vital for men to be checked for prostate cancer, all men aged 50 or over can go to their GP and ask to be examined. An initial urine test is the most common procedure, which is carried out to rule out any infection. Suresh explains other stages.

"What the GP may do is something called Informed Consent where the GP will tell the patient the pros and cons of PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test. Based on the results the patient can decide whether they want to proceed with the tests for prostate cancer".

The PSA may also involve a repeat blood test.

Other diagnosis checks include:

  • A urine test to rule out any infection
  • A Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) - as discussed earlier this is a common procedure (if a tad uncomfortable) where the GP or nurse will feel the prostate gland through the wall of the back passage (rectum) for any irregular signs such as the prostate gland appearing larger than expected for your age

Different treatments

Early diagnosis of prostate cancer means that the cancer can be confined to the prostate resulting in what is known as curative treatment.

Other treatments can deal with the problem - the most common one being radiotherapy (External Beam Radiotherapy) which is used to treat cancer that is contained within the prostate or radiotherapy to deal with cancer just outside the prostate.

CT scan of a pelvis showing mapping of a radiotherapy treatment of prostate cancer (© Rex Features)

This is suitable treatment for men of any age.

Surgery

This involves the prostate being removed. There are several ways of removing the prostate gland.

These include:

  • Retropubic prostatectomy - the most common surgery and done through a cut in the abdomen
  • Perineal prostatectomy - less common surgery done through the area between the testicles and rectum
  • Keyhole - surgery that accesses the prostate through five or six small openings carried out by hand or robot

The most common side effects of surgery are urinary or difficulty getting and keeping an erection, although this does not mean it's a permanent problem and such issues can be treated with medication.

Non-invasive techniques

Active surveillance - a way of monitoring prostate cancer (via PSA test) which aims to avoid or delay unnecessary treatment in men with less aggressive cancers. The disease may never progress or cause symptoms, eliminating any need for treatment.

Important facts

  • Very few cases of prostate cancer are registered to men under 50
  • 1 in 10 men in the UK will be affected by prostate cancer at some stage in their lives
  • Only 1 in 26 men will die of the disease
  • There are various forms of treatment that include surgery, high-intensity ultrasound and radiotherapy
  • Afro-Caribbean men are three times more at risk than white men
  • Men from ethnic backgrounds should get checked in their 40s
  • Prostate cancer incidence rates increase within the older age group (60 plus)

    Doctor performing a blood test on a male patient (© Rex Features)

  • A standard PSA blood test can be carried out by your GP or at a hospital

Healthy diet to help prevent prostate cancer

There is no secret formula to ward off any type cancer but healthy eating and drinking has beneficial effects, and in some cases specific foods may help act as a preventative barrier to prostate cancer in later years.

  • Eat plenty of fibre
  • Cut down on fat
  • Cut down on salt
  • Cut down on sugar

Try to keep to the 'five fruits/vegetables a day' philosophy, which will help boost the immune system.

Foods specifically for helping prevent prostate cancer have been identified as broccoli and other members of the same family such as kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. So there's no need to skimp on healthy eating this Christmas.

Garlic is another super food associated with a multitude of antioxidant benefits and in particular helping to prevent prostate problems in men. However, if you want to avoid the anti-social effects of garlic, particularly when it comes to your love-life, then aroma-free garlic capsules are a wise choice. But for full efficacy it is preferable to use the real McCoy now and then when cooking home meals.

A bowl containing tomatoes, a powerful cancer-beating fruit (© PA Wire)

Tomatoes are a powerful antioxidant and cancer-beating fruit that are possibly easier to eat everyday than oranges and other citrus fruits. So stock up on the little red blighters. Don't forget oily fish and its essential Omega 3 fatty acids, which can be found in everything from sardines to mackerel and herring.

More information

You can find more information at The Prostate Cancer Charity website or call their confidential helpline on 0800 074 8383.

Find out more about Movember the official website

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