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Explained: What is Prostate Cancer?

With November being a key month around the world for men’s health issues, it is important that we use this time to educate ourselves.

It is a great time to learn some lessons about various health issues that can be applied all year round.

A prominent men’s health issue is of course that of prostate cancer.

So what is the prostate? Where is it, and what does it do? And how and when should I go about getting it checked?

First, the basics.

The prostate is a gland exclusive to males, located between the penis and the bladder.

The prostate produces fluid which later mixes with sperm to create semen, and due to its location  plays a key role in urination. It is also important for ejaculation.

It is usually the around the size of a walnut, though unlike most parts of the body it continues to grow even after puberty.

Because of this fact, the prostate is especially prone to cancer, which is an abnormal rate of cell growth.

It is estimated that one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, and it is a leading cause of death for elderly men worldwide.

So what are the signs and symptoms? Here are some key ones:

Incontinence: Loss of control of your bladder

Hematuria: Bloody urine

Nocturia: More frequent urination at night

Impotence: The inability to get an erection

Of course it is important to note that none of these symptoms are exclusive to prostate cancer and could be caused by any number of other conditions, including Benign Prostate Hyperlasia / BPH (which is a benign growth of the prostate), or even a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

Those with a family history of prostate cancer are at an increased risk, and it becomes increasingly common with age (males under 45 are rarely diagnosed with prostate cancer).

So what should you do if you notice any symptoms and worry you might be at risk?

Make an appointment with your GP as soon as you can.

You can expect to be asked a few questions about your symptoms and a few lifestyle questions too.

The GP might want to palpate (or feel) your prostate to see if it is oversized, and can also request a PSA test (PSA is a substance produced by the prostate that is often increased in prostate cancer).

If the GP is suspicious of anything, they may wish to order an ultrasound or an MRI to rule out cancer. Both of these are entirely painless and will allow the doctor to get a good view of your prostate.

A prostate being palpated

Finally, what are the options for treating prostate cancer?

Some men with prostate cancer are considered low-risk; this means that their cancer is spreading very slowly and they are not at a high risk of it metastasing (or spreading) to another area like the bones, liver, or lungs. For these patients it is often best to simply provide frequent testing to ensure that the cancer is not growing unexpectedly.

For those at a higher risk, there are several options as well. Here are a few;

Prostatectomy: This is the surgical removal of the prostate, which is often accompanied by radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy: This involves the use of radiation to kill cancerous cells. A machine will produce rays which can be aimed at cancerous cells in your prostate region.

Brachytherapy: This is the insertion of tiny radioactive seed into your prostate region which will very slowly leak radiation to kill the cancer cells. The radiation of the seeds will fade over time.

Hormone Therapy: This is the use of medication to reduce the production of some hormones like testosterone which can aid in the growth of cancer cells. It can also be used alongside radiotherapy.

If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, you and your doctor will discuss these options in depth and come to an agreement of what to do together.

A diagnosis like prostate cancer can be terrifying, and for some can be fatal. But it is often extremely treatable, especially when caught early.

Men have a tendency to ignore health issues, especially when there may be sexual or urinary symptoms involved.

The most important thing is to remember that your GP is there to help and that the best outcomes will always be in those who don’t hesitate to act when they notice something concerning.

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