Recognise and reduce your risk of prostate cancer

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More than 3,000 men die from prostate cancer in Australia every year, making it the fourth leading cause of death for Australian men.

Typically prostate cancer is a slow growing disease, and men can live for many years with low grade prostate cancer without it becoming life threatening. However high grade disease spreads quickly and can be fatal.

In support of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month taking place throughout September, we’ve sourced key information from the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and the Better Health Channel to provide you with the must-knows about prostate cancer, and how men can lower their risk of developing the disease.

What is prostate cancer?

The prostate is a small gland that sits below the bladder near the rectum. Only men have a prostate. It surrounds the urethra, the passage in the penis through which urine and semen pass.

As explained by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, prostate cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop in the prostate. These abnormal cells can continue to multiply in an uncontrolled way and sometimes spread outside the prostate into nearby or distant parts of the body.

Symptoms

Early prostate cancer usually has no symptoms, which is why it’s important that men get checked regularly to enable early detection. The Better Health Channel explains that 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.

Risk factors

According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, factors that are strongly linked to an increased chance of developing prostate cancer include:

  • Age: The chance of a developing prostate cancer increases with age. The risk of getting prostate cancer by the age of 75 is 1 in 7 men, and by age 85 this increases to 1 in 5.
  • Family history: By having a first-degree male relative with prostate cancer, a man’s chances of developing the disease is higher than men with no such history.
  • Diet and lifestyle: Evidence suggests that poor lifestyle choices, such as eating an unhealthy diet high in processed meat and/or fat and not engaging in regular exercise, can contribute to your risk of developing prostate cancer.

Diagnosis and treatment

There are a few different tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. These include:

  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test: The prostate makes a protein called PSA. Large quantities of PSA in the blood can indicate prostate cancer or other prostate problems.
  • Rectal examination: Using a gloved finger in the rectum, the doctor feels for enlargement and irregularities of the prostate.
  • Biopsy: Tissue samples are taken from the prostate and examined in a laboratory for the presence of cancer cells.

Treatment paths for prostate cancer depend on a man’s age, condition and personal preference. These include:

  • Active surveillance: Often younger men with very early-stage prostate cancer will be simply monitored closely with regular PSA tests and biopsies. If there is evidence that the disease is progressing, treatment is then prescribed.
  • Surgery: The removal of the prostate can be performed by ‘open’ or ‘keyhole’ surgery.
  • Radiotherapy: External radiotherapy involves the use of x-rays, which are used to target and destroy cancer cells. Alternatively internal radiotherapy may be used, during which a radioactive implant is placed inside the prostate to target cancer cells.
  • Hormone therapy: Prostate cancer relies on the hormone testosterone for growth. Hormone therapy reduces testosterone levels and ‘starves’ the tumour. This option is often prescribed for men whose cancer has spread beyond the prostate.

For more information about diagnosis and treatment visit the Better Health Channel.

Protective factors: take a proactive approach to reducing your risk

Prostate cancer isn’t preventable, however evidence suggests that improving one’s overall health may reduce the risk of developing the disease. Consider your:

  • Diet: Eat meals that are nutritious. Refer to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eatingfor guidance. What is good for the heart is good for the prostate.
  • Physical activity/exercise: There is some evidence to show that physical activity and regular exercise can be protective factors for cancer. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.

For more information on protective factors for prostate cancer visit the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia website.

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