Know your prostate

Every man has one, it's important for their sex life, yet few men know anything about their prostate or what can go wrong with it.

According to a survey of men aged 45 and over by Prostate Cancer UK, 70% of them knew nothing about their prostate or the symptoms of prostate cancer.

John Neate, of Prostate Cancer UK, says that better knowledge about this walnut-sized gland will help men to make better choices about testing and treatment.

"We certainly don't want men to panic about getting prostate cancer, but we do want far more to be aware of their risk of this disease and their health in general."

The prostate is located below the bladder. It produces some of the fluid in semen and is crucial to a man's sex life. The prostate fluid nourishes and protects sperm during intercourse and forms the bulk of ejaculate volume.

The prostate often enlarges as men get older, but for two-thirds of men aged 50 or over this doesn't cause any problems.

In some cases, an enlarged prostate can press on the tube carrying urine from the bladder and cause urinary problems. This is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

Other prostate conditions include inflammation of the gland, also known as prostatitis, which is sometimes caused by an infection. This can make urinating painful. Sometimes a single cell in the prostate starts to multiply out of control and cancer can develop.

Most common cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with more than 30,000 men diagnosed annually.

Around 10,000 men die from it every year, making it the second most common cause of cancer deaths in men after lung cancer.

Most men with early prostate cancer have no symptoms at all. Some of the symptoms of prostate cancer below can also be caused by other prostate problems.

Symptoms of all prostate problems include:

  • needing to urinate often, especially at night
  • difficulty starting to urinate
  • straining to urinate or taking a long time to finish
  • pain when urinating or during sex

Other less common symptoms include:

  • pain in the lower back
  • blood in the urine

High-risk group

Black men are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men. Researchers are looking at what may be the cause of this increased risk, but genes probably play an important role.

Many men over 70 have prostate cancer, even though most of them will never have it diagnosed or have any symptoms.

In the majority (80%) of cases, this is a slow-growing cancer and it may stay undiagnosed because it never causes any symptoms or problems.

In the other 20% of cases, the prostate cancer cells can grow quickly and move outside the prostate, spreading the cancer to other parts of the body, such as the bones.

'At risk' groups

The risk of getting prostate cancer gets higher as you get older. Most men diagnosed with the condition are over 50.

However, survival rates of newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients have improved from 30% in the 1970s to 80% today.

If you have a father or brother diagnosed with prostate cancer, your risk of getting the disease is two-and-a-half times higher compared to the average man. The risk increases to 4.3 if the relative was diagnosed before the age of 60.

"A man is three times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer if he comes from an African or African-Caribbean background," says John Neate.

Black men are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men. Researchers are looking at what may be the cause of this increased risk, but genes probably play an important role.

Researchers believe a diet high in saturated animal fats and red meat may be responsible for the high incidence of prostate cancer in Western countries. It is thought that reducing your intake of animal fat and eating more fruit and vegetables may lower the risk of prostate cancer developing or spreading.

There is currently no prostate cancer screening programme on the NHS. However, the government is committed to introducing one if and when an accurate diagnosis test becomes available and there is a clear treatment process.

It's up to the individual if they want to get tested. But Neate says too many men put off going to their GP if they develop symptoms because they are afraid of a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

He says: "It's amazing that so many men have such low expectations of their quality of life as they get older. They are prepared to accept uncomfortable symptoms as normal and simply not visit their GP." 

Page last reviewed: 20/07/2014

Next review due: 31/08/2016

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Every man has one, it's important to their sex life, yet few men know anything about their prostate or what can go wrong with it