In Brief

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer and how can it be treated?

Number of men dying of illness reaches record high in the UK

The number of men dying from prostate cancer has reached an all time high in the UK, according to newly released figures.

There were 12,031 deaths from the disease in 2017, an increase on the 11,637 deaths the year before.

The rise is likely to be due to more people getting the disease because of an ageing population, even though survival rates have greatly increased over the last decade.

Angela Culhane, chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK, said: “By 2030, prostate cancer is set to be the most commonly diagnosed of all cancers in the UK.

“Before we reach this point, we absolutely must ensure that as many of these men as possible have their prostate cancer caught early and successfully treated, so their lives are not cut short by the disease.”

What is prostate cancer?

The prostate is a gland located between the penis and bladder which produces a fluid that forms part of the body’s semen supply.

The vast majority of prostate cancer cases involve men over the age of 50. Men with a family history of the disease or with an African or African-Caribbean ethnic background are more likely to be affected.

What are the signs?

Most of the noticeable signs of prostate cancer involve changes to toilet habits. According to the NHS, these include:

- needing to urinate more frequently, especially during the night

- “shy” bladder

- having to strain while urinating or producing little urine

- the sensation that the bladder is not fully empty after urinating

Pain in the bones, back or testicles, a loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss can be symptoms of cancer that has spread beyond the prostate

What is a PSA test?

A PSA test is a blood test that measures levels of prostate specific antigen, a protein made in the prostate. An elevated level can be an early indicator of prostate cancer before the appearance of any physical symptoms.

The imperfect reliability of the test - only one in four men with an elevated PSA level have cancer, for instance - mean that screenings are not offered as a matter of course.

However, men over the age of 50 who want to be tested can have this done free of charge on the NHS after discussing the pros and cons with their doctor.

A GP can also perform a digital rectal examination (DRE) to feel for any changes to your prostate gland. 

How is prostate cancer treated?

Many forms of prostate cancer are slow-growing and may not require treatment for decades.

In light of the potential serious side-effects of treatment - including incontinence and erectile dysfunction - doctors and patients will often agree to monitor the progression of the cancer until treatment becomes necessary.

If the cancer is in stages one to three, meaning it is confined to the prostate, it can be treated with radiotherapy, hormone therapy or the surgical removal of the prostate gland. Survival rates are high, says Cancer Research - around 95% of patients caught in this stage are alive five years after their diagnosis.

However, this five-year survival figure drops to 30% when it comes to patients diagnosed with prostate cancer which has metastasised to other parts of the body. Cancer which has spread beyond the prostate cannot be cured, although treatment may be able to prolong life.

Almost everyone (roughly 100%) will survive prostate cancer for five years or more after they are diagnosed, if it is caught in stages one or two.

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