Prostate Cancer Awareness Month – March 2024

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March is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Approximately 420,000 men in the UK are living with prostate cancer, and it is the most common cancer among men.

Despite over 50,000 new diagnoses each year, many remain unaware of the risks, signs, and symptoms of prostate cancer.

Understanding Prostate Cancer

The prostate is a gland located beneath the bladder and in front of the rectum. It plays a crucial role in the male reproductive system and its primary function is the production of fluid that transports sperm.

Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate gland mutate and multiply, forming tumours. Although there is no specific cause, certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing the disease, including age, family history and ethnicity.

Signs and symptoms

Prostate cancer does not often cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Symptoms usually appear once the prostate has grown to be large enough to put pressure on the urethra, which is the tube carrying urine from the bladder to the penis.

Once this occurs, those with prostate cancer may experience the following changes:

  • an increased need to urinate, particularly during the night
  • difficulty in starting to urinate
  • straining or taking a long time whilst urinating
  • a weakened flow of urine
  • a feeling as though the bladder has not fully emptied
  • blood in urine or blood in semen. (Source: NHS)

These symptoms do not always mean you have prostate cancer. Many men’s prostates get bigger as they age due to a non-cancerous condition -this is called benign prostate enlargement.

However, it is important to be aware of any changes in urinary habits and, if anything feels different, to see your GP as soon as possible. They can perform further tests and refer you to the appropriate specialist, usually a urologist if required.

Detection and diagnosis

As Prostate cancer can progress asymptomatically, blood tests are often used to inform diagnosis. The PSA test measures the amount of the Prostate Specific Antigen in your blood. A level higher than what would be expected can be a sign of prostate cancer.

There are other tests that are used in conjunction with this blood test which can be used to check for prostate cancer, including:

  • a digital rectal examination (DRE). This can be performed at your GP surgery or local hospital. A doctor or nurse will feel your prostate to check its sizing and for any hardness or lumps
  • a prostate biopsy, where a sample of your prostate gland is taken away for testing.

Risk factors

Prostate cancer predominantly affects men over 50, and risk increases with age. The most common age for men to be diagnosed is between 70 and 74.

The risk is even higher for black men and for those with a family history of prostate cancer. (source: Prostate Cancer UK)

Supporting those affected

As the UK population has got older and PSA testing has improved, cases of prostate cancer have increased. On average, one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their life. Over 80% of men will survive their condition for 10 years or more, and there are many living with prostate cancer.

For those diagnosed with prostate cancer, there is a range of support available:

As we are reminded of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to be aware of these symptoms, encourage early detection, and provide signposting to organisations that are able to offer additional support and resources to those affected.

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