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Prostate Cancer Awareness

16 November, 2022

What is Prostate Cancer?

Author: Anna Loughlin, Candidate Advanced Nurse Practitioner – Prostate Cancer

What is Prostate Cancer?

The prostate is a gland located in the pelvis, underneath the bladder, which is involved in the production of seminal fluid. Prostate cancer occurs when the cells of the prostate gland grow in an abnormal way to form a lump (tumour). Most of the time prostate cancer grows slowly, however it can grow more quickly and spreads to other parts of the body. Prostate cancer is the most common invasive cancer in men in Ireland, with around 3,900 men diagnosed each year. Though it is a common cancer, most men do not die from it.

Who should be tested for prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer usually affects men over the age of 50. It is more likely to affect those who have had a close family member with the disease, usually a father or brother. Men over the age of 50 can have a discussion with their GP about being tested. Men over 40 who have a strong family history of prostate cancer may also wish to discuss having tests done.

Those who have symptoms should also discuss being tested. Many people with early prostate cancer have no symptoms at all. Others can have symptoms such as passing urine more frequently (especially at night), a feeling of not completely emptying the bladder, or stopping and starting when passing urine. Less common symptoms include pain in the lower back, hips or thighs. It is important to note that these symptoms can also be associated with other problems aside from cancer, so if concerned it is best to talk to a doctor.

How is prostate cancer investigated?

Tests for prostate cancer often begin with a blood test, called the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). A physical examination of the prostate is also part of prostate assessment. For this test, the doctor or nurse passes a finger into the back passage (rectum) to feel the prostate, checking for any hardness or lumps. If either of these tests are abnormal, the GP may refer a man to be assessed by the specialist in the Rapid Access Prostate Clinic.

There are several different reasons why the PSA blood test may be elevated, so an MRI scan is often used to gather more information about what is happening in the prostate. The specialist may then decide if a biopsy (a sample of the prostate to be examined with a microscope) is necessary.

How can the risk of prostate cancer be reduced?

The main risk factor for prostate cancer is aging – it is a disease that is more likely as we get older. However, some steps can be taken to reduce the risk.

  • Maintain a healthy weight: being overweight can increase the risk of aggressive prostate cancer, or prostate cancer that has spread to other places
  • Eat a healthy diet: this can help to keep a healthy weight – eat wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and pulses. Limit sugar and fat intake and avoid processed meat.
  • Stay active: be physically active in everyday life.

How is prostate cancer treated?

Prostate cancer treatment depends on whether the cancer is confined to the prostate gland (localised) or advanced to other parts of the body. Some types of prostate cancer do not need treatment at all, and are instead monitored closely. For cancer that does need to be treated, options include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Brachytherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Chemotherapy

The tests carried out by the specialist team will help to determine which type of treatment is best suited.

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