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: 20/07/2016


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The 10 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Lilac_Light said on 03 August 2015

Could there be some more generic information about the prostate added? More specifically, some information on female sex characterised bodies here. I want to know more about what the prostate/(Skene's) does/if there is one in my body, but there doesn't seem to be any information on the website about it. This is the best information I've been able to find on the net:

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sirdenn said on 21 September 2014

My doctor said I couldn't have a PSA because his surgery had their funding reduced and there was no national screening programme. If PSA is all we have got why not use it as a guide? It may not be completely reliable but neither is breast screening and nobody suggests stopping that.

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JQuartey said on 03 April 2013

Does a biopsy develop or spread cancer cells?
I read it somewhere, I wander this is true. Does anyone know?

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Shadow said on 08 March 2013

Have to agree with Dudge Jed .

I had the now 'recognized symptoms ' for years. Blood in urine, shocking pain i lower back, very smelly urine, very painful when going, weak stream at beginning and end.

My Dr repeatedly gave me antibiotics. which cured the inflammation but it would all return within 2 months.

Eventually on another umpteenth visit a stand in locum diagnosed my problem within 5 mins of me explaining the problems. Even without any examination he told me straight to my face i had Prostrate cancer. What a relief. after 3 years of suffering misdiagnosis. I was told the truth. A quick examination confirmed his prognosis with the words. ' That is the largest rubbery prostrate i have ever felt'. With that comment he explained the process and was on the phone immediately. Within a week a biopsy confirmed the worst. PSA was a high 27.7 the cancer by now was locally advanced. The anger of misdiagnosis now passed.

The family and i started to get to terms with the possible worst case scenario. Consultation s followed quickly and even more quickly i was set up for a course Zolodex Hormone treatment . Followed by life saving 37 days of continuous radiotherapy zapping.

Treatment started in 2008 and I am still here. The side effect of the radiotherapy has caused a huge of problem , some of which have been cured. Others not.

For those who would complain about the side effects. To me that is a very selfish ideal. I would sooner be alive with the 24 /7 pain and discomfort and the family around for an undetermined time. Then have no pain and not be here?

The whole point of this story is that men do go to the doctors when they know there is something wrong. But i have found as was said earlier we need less prejudice against men at the surgery. With more male staff.

I experienced some very bad male prejudice including prostrate vs breast priority's.

Get yourselves checked on a regular basis.. And keep smiling.!

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PetrusKnut said on 23 July 2012

I was tested for PSA 10 years ago and at my request again recently when it was found to be high, and cancer was diagnosed after a biopsy. I have openly discussed with many male friends and their most common question is 'how did you know?' As my symptoms of urgency and frequency had crept up on me over the years I was not worried about it. A physical examination by two doctors indicated no problem.
I feel that we should have regular PSA tests at least every 5 years.

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Dudge Jed said on 05 March 2011

I disagree with John Neate comments. Where is the evidence men put off visits to a GP? In general, men do not have low expectations of quality of life. Many men simply 'man up' to uncomfortable symptons. They feel safe in their belief that the current medical tests and treatments for Prostate Cancer are so ineffective they often treat men who receive no benefit but are harmed due to the side effects of treatment. This balance is a personal one for each and every man. The decision to receive a screening test and treatment, and even the need to visit a clinician, is one best left to the patient. The simple message for any illness is if the patient feels the symptons warrant further investigation they should visit their GP. For men, this would be easier if they saw more male receptions, more male nurses, and more male health literature and posters in their local surgery.

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Steven Shukor said on 03 March 2011

Hi Silver_Kiln,

Thanks for your comment. The article has been amended using the latest guidance on risk factors.

Thanks, Steven, Live Well editor

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Silver_Kiln said on 24 January 2011

I turn to NHS Choices for facts and then find this in the narrative. "You are twice as likely to get prostate cancer if a relative has been diagnosed with it, especially if they developed the disease before they were 60 years old."

How can the risk be especially doubled? If there is a link to the relative being under 60 when diagnosed then the ratio of twice needs to change to reflect the additional risk. I have found better sources of information through a web search.

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Palloque said on 04 March 2009

I was in Iran & Pakinstan for 2 years in the late 60's & Kuwait for 5 years in the 80's where I noticed local men mostly squatted whilst urinating. I was told by my local friends that is was far healthier as things flowed more freely. I subsequently learnt that the instance of prostrate cancer in the Middle East is very low & this is one reason why.
Having lost my Father to prostrate cancer @ 77 I have adopted th practice for the last 15 years & believe strongly that was I was told to be true. Surprisingly I have only heard this recomended once & that was one the radio.
I am intersted to learn other peoples opinion on this. Because, if it is true, then lets reccommemnd squatting or sitting for men whislt urintating.

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brianenty said on 06 July 2008

I worked at Nottingham City Hospital from 1993 to 1995. As part of their induction process, they had a prostate problems awareness session. About 1999, I started to notice some of the urination symptoms, and reported to my GP. He sent me to Lincoln County Hospital for specialist checks, and these eventually led to having biopsies taken, which indicated that my prostate was enlarged but not cancerous, and my PSA was "high". Since my first visit to the hospital, my PSA has been checked on a six-monthly basis and reviewed by a specialist.
A national awareness programme should start immediately. There ARE clear diagnosis and treatments available NOW.

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