It seems Stephen Fry’s revelation that he has been battling prostate cancer for the past two months could not have come at a more appropriate time.
March is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, a time when we pay special attention to one of the most concerning cancers affecting people at the moment.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in the UK for men, with 1 in 8 men being diagnosed at some point in their life. The statistics are, frankly, chilling: every day, 129 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and a man dies from the disease every 45 minutes. As of 2015, more men were dying from prostate cancer than women from breast cancer.
It’s time to change that. Here’s our quick guide to prostate cancer, the symptoms and where you can find further help and support.
Share it with your brother, father, uncle and friends! Let's get the message out there, help raise awareness and perhaps even save some lives.
What is the prostate?
The prostate gland is only found in men. Its main function is to produce semen and it sits underneath the bladder. It is entirely normal for it to grow larger as you get older, this is known as an enlarged prostate and it isn’t cancer. It also doesn’t increase your risk of developing prostate cancer, although it’s possible for a man to have both an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer at the same time.
Who is affected?
Obviously, only men (and transwomen who were assigned male at birth) can get prostate cancer. The chances of cancer developing increase with age and men over 50 are the most likely to be diagnosed.
A family history, such as your father or brother being diagnosed with prostate cancer, or your mother or sister developing breast cancer, can increase your chances. Black men are twice as likely as white men to develop cancer of the prostate – the reasons for this are unknown.
Prostate cancer is often perceived as a disease of middle and old-age, due to the fact that it tends to be a slow-growing cancer and so can sometimes take many years to cause any problems. However, younger men can and do develop the disease, although this is rare. All men should be aware of the signs and symptoms.
What are the symptoms?
Early prostate cancer does not usually have any symptoms. It’s only as the cancer grows and exerts pressure on the bladder and urethra that symptoms may develop. These are almost entirely concerned with urination.
Any changes to the way you urinate – from needing to go more often and an increased urgency to a feeling that you can never quite empty your bladder – should be checked out. They’re usually symptoms of other, non-cancerous conditions which can be treated - but let a GP make that decision!
As the cancer develops and if it spreads beyond the prostate, it might cause other issues, such as back, hip or pelvic pain, unexplained weight loss, blood in your urine or semen or erectile problems. Again, these can all be signs of other illnesses, many of which are less serious, but should be checked over by a medical professional.
What might the GP do if I go to them with any concerns?
One of the tests that can help diagnose a prostate problem is a rectal examination, which might be one of the reasons why men delay visiting their GP. However, this is only one way – although a very quick and easy one – in which your GP might investigate your concerns. They may also want to take a urine sample and conduct a blood test, called the PSA test, to look for a specific protein.
It is so important that you visit a GP if you have any worries over prostate cancer, especially if there is a history in your family or if you are a black male. Any embarrassment you might feel at the time is outweighed by the risks of any potential cancer developing and spreading further.
Can I do anything to lower my chances of prostate cancer?
There haven’t been any specific causes identified in the case of prostate cancer, beyond the factors which increase the likelihood of developing it mentioned above. Current advice is to simply live a healthy life, in terms of diet and exercise, avoiding smoking and excess drinking. A healthy lifestyle has been proven to lower the chances of developing many diseases, including some cancers.
What if I am diagnosed?
Due to prostate cancer's slow-growing nature, men can often be monitored with regular tests and scans, rather than having treatment straight away. There are also more traditional forms of cancer treatment, such as radiotherapy and surgery, which are also used when necessary.
Over 330,000 men in the UK are living with prostate cancer and some of the effects of the illness and treatment can be treated too. In addition, there are many support lines and online sites dedicated to helping men with prostate cancer through their experience. However, that’s a bridge to cross when you reach that point, and something to discuss with your GP or specialist.
Where else can I find information and support for prostate cancer?
Whilst we would urge anybody with serious concerns over prostate cancer to see their GP, there are other places to gain more information or support if you want to before taking that step.
Prostate Cancer UK has a wealth of information about prostate concerns, including cancer. Alongside their website, they offer a specialist nurse service, where you can speak to a trained nurse via online messaging, telephone, SMS or post.
Both the NHS website and Cancer Research UK also provide basic factual information in an easy-to-read format, including links to further agencies who can offer support and guidance.
Prostate Cancer UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1005541) and in Scotland (SC039332). Registered company 02653887.