The Importance of Raising Awareness of Prostate Cancer
It is sometimes said that men take more care of their cars than their bodies! Men often find it hard to deal with their health and are reluctant to visit their GP. They often ignore the fact that the sooner a problem is identified, the greater the chance of a full recovery. New figures suggest that deaths from prostate cancer have overtaken deaths from breast cancer for the first time in the UK. With this in mind, it is vital that men are fully aware of the possible implications of a lack of knowledge of the signs and symptoms of the disease. Let’s take a look at the basics:
What are the facts about prostate cancer?
According to the most recent statistics from Cancer Research, 41,736 men in the UK were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011. In 2012, 10,837 men died from the condition. This figure had risen to 11,819 deaths in 2015 and in the same year 11,442 women died from breast cancer.
According to Prostate Cancer UK, advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer are paying off and they believe that prostate cancer could also benefit from increased funding.
Whilst the figures are daunting, it’s also important to note that 84% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer go on to survive 10 or more years after. This is largely due to early detection, which is partly down to the PSA test which we will examine in more detail later.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer usually develops slowly so you may not be aware that you have the condition for many years. It is often only when your prostate is large enough to affect your urethra that you become more aware of a possible problem.
When this happens you may notice some of the following symptoms:
- you need to urinate more often, especially at night
- there is an urgency to rush to the toilet
- you may have difficulty starting to urinate
- the flow of urine is weak
- you are also left with a feeling that your bladder hasn’t fully emptied
Symptoms that the cancer may have spread include:
- bone and back pain
- a loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- pain in the testicles
The cause of the problems is often a blockage as a result of an enlarged prostate. Many men’s prostates get larger as they get older. This is due to a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia(BPH). This is a non-cancerous condition and is also known as benign prostatic enlargement(BPE). It is particularly common in those of us aged over 50 and isn’t usually a serious threat to our health. The risk of prostate cancer is no greater for men with an enlarged prostate as it is for men without one.
If your GP suspects that you may have an enlarged prostate, he may ask you to take a blood test that measures PSA.
What is the PSA Test?
The PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test is a blood test, which is used to detect the early signs of an enlarged prostate. It’s currently used as an initial test for those who are concerned about prostate cancer.
The test works by identifying a protein that is only produced within the prostate gland. Some of this protein naturally leaks into the blood, and the amount present can determine the health of your prostate.
Raised levels of PSA can indicate that you may have prostate cancer. The amount varies, depending on your age.
- 50 – 59 year olds. Your PSA level is considered high if it’s 3ng/ml or above
- 60 – 69 year olds. Your PSA level is considered high if it’s 4ng/ml or above
- 70 years or over. Your PSA level is considered high if it’s 5ng/ml or above
It’s important to note that whilst elevated levels of PSA may indicate cancer, it can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as urinary infection, prostatitis or enlarged prostate. The test is not mandatory for men in the UK. Instead, the NHS offers an ‘informed choice programme’, where men can choose to have the test or not, based on understanding of the pro’s and con’s involved.
Controversy Surrounding the Test
The introduction of the PSA test has not been without its share of controversy. Whilst it is effective at identifying prostate cancer in its early stages, and thus considerably improving survival rates, it can be unreliable.
A recent report featured in the Daily Mail indicates that as many as 7 out of 10 patients receive a false result from their PSA test, which then leads to unnecessary medical procedures such as biopsies, which can be painful. Likewise, treatment for prostate cancer, which includes options such as chemotherapy and surgery, not only cause considerable discomfort and emotional stress, but can lead to permanent health problems, such as erectile dysfunction and incontinence.
Experts speculate that for every life saved by the PSA test, 45 further men undergo treatments that they didn’t actually need.
Should You Have the Test?
If you’re concerned about your prostate, the first thing you should do is arrange an appointment with your GP. Remember, an enlarged prostate is a very common problem in men over the age of 50, and is generally not a serious threat to your health.
Your GP will discuss your symptoms with you, and then provide you with information about the testing available. You’ll then be able to make an informed decision, with help from your doctor. Whatever course of action you decide to take, remember that it is important to seek advice, rather than ignoring the problem. Although it’s likely to be nothing serious, it makes good sense to get things checked out as early as possible.
You can get additional advice from the UK charity Prostate Cancer.
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