For a number of years now, the month of November has become a time for making extra efforts to raise awareness and take action about issues that affect the health of men. In this blog we’ll be talking specifically about one major men’s health issue, prostate cancer.
Although we all understand the wisdom in the expression, “prevention is better than cure”, we men are notorious for not discussing our health problems or having regular medical check-ups. As a result, nowhere is the need for preventative medicine greater than in the area of men’s health, including prostate health.
Did you know that every year around 3,000 Kiwi blokes will be diagnosed with prostate cancer – and about 600 will die from the disease? In fact, prostate cancer is said to be the most common cancer in men and the third most common cause of male cancer deaths in New Zealand.
So what exactly is prostate cancer?
Only men have a prostate gland. The prostate is about the size and shape of a walnut, but tends to grow bigger as you get older. It sits just below the bladder and surrounds the upper part of the urethra, which is the tube through which men urinate and ejaculate. The prostate’s main job is to produce semen, the fluid that carries sperm. Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate become cancerous and grow into a tumour.
Prostate cancer often grows slowly at first and may not even cause any problems. If left untreated, however, the cancer cells may spread from the prostate to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, liver and bones.
However, if detected while still confined to the prostate gland, prostate cancer can often be treated successfully. And therein lies the key to beating prostate cancer – early detection. In fact, the difference between early detection and late detection can be the difference between life and death.
Who can get prostate cancer?
Only men can get prostate cancer. However, because a side effect of the disease and its treatment may include erectile dysfunction, prostate cancer can have a big impact on intimate relationships. So, although only men can get prostate cancer, it’s not merely “just a man’s disease” – it’s a disease that effects couples too.
What causes prostate cancer?
While we don’t fully understand what causes prostate cancer, we know that the chances of developing the disease increase with age, with prostate cancer most common in men over 40.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s a disease than only affects old men. Because prostate cancer can be hereditary, if you have a family history of prostate cancer you could also be more prone to developing the disease yourself.
Other factors, such as smoking, dietary, hormonal and environmental factors, for example exposure to certain chemicals, may also increase your chances of getting prostate cancer.
Spotting the symptoms of prostate cancer
As we said earlier, prostate cancer can often grow slowly at first, so not everyone with the disease will experience the symptoms of prostate cancer until the condition is quite advanced. Often, the signs of prostate cancer are first detected during a routine check-up when a man goes to see his doctor after experiencing problems or changes in urinary or sexual function.
What are prostate cancer symptoms?
If you answer yes to any of the following questions it may indicate you have symptoms of prostate cancer.
• Do you find you need to urinate often (more often than has been the norm for you), and especially more so at night?
• Do you have difficulty starting to urinate or holding back urine?
• Is your flow of urine weak or interrupted, or are you finding it difficult to urinate at all?
• Do you have a painful or burning sensation when urinating?
• Are you having difficulty getting an erection?
• Are you experiencing painful ejaculations?
• Is there blood in your urine or semen?
• Do you experience frequent pain or stiffness in your lower back, hips or upper thighs?
What to do if you have prostate cancer symptoms
Nobody wants to think about cancer, especially prostate cancer. Nobody wants to get screened or even think about getting a rectal exam to check for prostate cancer. That’s perfectly understandable. However, you should not regard any of the signs mentioned above as ‘normal’. If you experience any of them, don’t delay; head to your doctor and get yourself checked out.
How will my doctor check for prostate cancer?
If your doctor suspects the likelihood of prostate cancer, they may arrange for you to have the following two initial tests for prostate cancer:
• A PSA blood test, which is a simple, routine blood test that screens for the presence of PSA or prostate specific antigen, which is a protein produced by the prostate. High levels of PSA might be an indication of prostate cancer.
• A DRE or digital rectum exam where your doctor will insert a finger into your rectum to feel for size and any roughness or unusual lumps in the prostate.
Neither test can give a clear and accurate indication of cancer on its own, but together they can produce a more conclusive result, so it’s important to have both tests.
How to beat prostate cancer
Beating prostate cancer boils down to knowing the facts and taking action early. The best way to do that if you are over the age of 40 or have a family history of prostate cancer, or are exposed to any of the other possible prostate cancer causing factors mentioned earlier, is to talk to your doctor and have regular prostate health screenings.
Millions of men worldwide have survived prostate cancer and they did so because they got checked for prostate cancer, it was found and treated, and they’ve been able to go back to living their lives.
So go on, take advantage of men’s health month and call 09 522 2800 to make an appointment with your GP at OneHealth to have a general men’s health check, even if you’re not exhibiting any symptoms of prostate cancer.
Disclaimer: This news update is purely informative and should not be taken as medical advice, a diagnosis or treatment.