EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR PROSTATE
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in males across the UK, affecting roughly 1 in 8 men at some point during their lives. Fortunately, it is often a very slow growing cancer, and many men live with it for decades without experiencing any symptoms.
Nevertheless, prostate cancer can be deadly in its later stages - once it spreads from the prostate gland to other parts of the body. That's where early detection and recognition come in! We'll run you through some of the most common symptoms of prostate cancer below - and, if you have any concerns whatsoever, our private GPs are here to further advise and guide you through any investigations that may be required.
What Is The Prostate?
The symptoms of prostate cancer are easy to understand once you know what the prostate actually is! The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland that sits just below the bladder; it’s main function is to produce semen. The urethra, which is the tube that runs down from the bladder and carries urine, runs through the prostate gland. As such, any enlargement of the prostate gland will affect urine flow.
The prostate will grow over time normally, as a man ages. However, there are two main causes of pathological prostate enlargement:
- Prostate cancer, and
- A condition called BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia).
What Is Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia?
BPH is a benign, non-cancerous condition that can be treated with medication or with surgery. Both BPH and prostate cancer can cause similar symptoms, known as LUTS (lower urinary tract symptoms), and it is important to see your GP if you are concerned that you may have either one.
What Is Early Prostate Cancer?
Early Prostate Cancer is when the cancer has not spread from the prostate, can be cured by radiotherapy, hormonal treatments, or by surgically removing the entire gland. Once it has spread, the disease is unfortunately incurable, and treatment is to prolong and maintain quality of life.
As such, it is important to diagnose suspected cases of prostate cancer as early as possible. In most men, early prostate cancer does not produce any symptoms. However, there are some signs and symptoms that are indicative of prostate disease.
Early Symptoms - Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms
As we’ve mentioned, early prostate cancer is confined to the gland itself and rarely presents with any symptoms. If it does, however, it will present with lower urinary tract symptoms, LUTS:
- There is a need to urinate more often, which can lead to waking up several times in the night to go to the toilet (nocturia). This increased frequency can also lead to leaking and incontinence if a toilet cannot be found in time.
- Some men with LUTS describe their urine stream as weak or hesitant, and report that it takes a longer time to pass urine and that they need to strain at the toilet.
- When men finish going to the toilet, they may experience dribbling of urine and a feeling that their bladder isn’t completely empty.
More rarely, men describe pain during urination or ejaculation, or seeing blood in the urine or semen (this can be a sign of another disease, so it is important to report this to your GP straight away). Some men also report difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection as a sign of prostate cancer. However, this is rare, and is more likely to be a sign of diabetes or heart disease.
Symptoms of Later Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer may be asymptomatic for many years, but the longer it remains untreated, the more likely it is to develop symptoms. As the cancer spreads, it often attacks nearby bones such as the lower spine and hips, causing lower back pain. Prostate cancer may also present with pain in the testes.
There are also non-specific symptoms that are associated with all types of cancer that, therefore, might affect men with prostate cancer. These include:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
These symptoms, such as unintentional weight loss, are worrying, and it is worth seeing your GP if you are experiencing them.
How Is Prostate Cancer Diagnosed?
Your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you in full as well as doing a physical examination, known as a digital rectal exam. This is where the prostate is examined, by the doctor inserting a finger up the anus.
A PSA blood test (prostate specific antigen) is recommended next, raised PSA can be caused by various conditions including prostate cancer. A raised PSA therefore is not a prostate cancer diagnosis but further tests are warranted to investigate the possibility of cancer.
A biopsy is the only way to confirm a cancer diagnosis. This involves sampling a piece of the prostate and looking at the cells under a microscope to check for cancer cells. A prostate biopsy is commonly done using a transrectal ultrasound-guided biopsy. This procedure is carried out with local anaesthesia.
For more information on the causes and symptoms of prostate cancer, as well as ways to calculate your risk of developing the disease, check out the NHS Choices website. Another great website is the Prostate Cancer UK page, which also runs a helpline where you can speak to specialist nurses about your concerns.
Most importantly, if you are experiencing any of the above mentioned symptoms, you should book in to see your GP as soon as possible. While your symptoms may not be prostate cancer after all, it's always worth getting checked out, as the sooner prostate cancer is diagnosed, the better the treatment options available.
Our GP surgeries are open seven days a week, and our private doctors are highly experienced in dealing with such sensitive issues. To book an appointment, simple choose your most convenient London clinic and call or book an appointment alone. As always, if you need to find a GP, LDC is here for you.