Aside from skin, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men. In 2019 alone, it is estimated that 174,650 males in the US will be diagnosed with the disease.
The average age of males diagnosed with prostate cancer is 66, with approximately 60% of all cases occurring over 65. About 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime, however, only 1 in 41 will die of the condition each year.
It is important to dispel the myths surrounding prostate cancer and ensure that men understand how to address their symptoms as well as manage the side effects of their treatment. In this article, we aim to do just this by providing an overview of the condition, its potential causes and the diagnostic process.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
The prostate is a small gland located in the pelvis. Only found in men, it is situated between the penis and bladder, surrounding the urethra.
Symptoms of prostate cancer occur when this gland is large enough to affect the tube that carries urine from the bladder. These symptoms are therefore not dissimilar to having an enlarged prostate, something which is also common in older men.
The symptoms include:
- Feeling like you aren’t fully emptying your bladder
- An increased need to urinate
- Difficulty in urination
- Blood in urine or semen
It is more likely that these symptoms will mean you have prostate enlargement rather than prostate cancer. Nevertheless, it is important that you consult your doctor should you experience them.
If you later discover your symptoms to be a result of prostate enlargement, the majority of those afflicted can ease symptoms by making lifestyle changes or taking medication.
Medication can include alpha-blockers like Flomax, which work by relaxing the muscle in the prostate gland and at the base of the bladder, making it easier to pass urine. Hair medication and the 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor finasteride is often prescribed as it shrinks the enlarged prostate gland.
Alternatively, you could be recommended Bumex or Aldactone which are both forms of diuretics. Otherwise known as water pills, this medication works by increasing the amount of water and salt expelled from the body as urine.
Is there a specific cause of prostate cancer?
As with a number of cancers, there is not currently an exact cause of prostate cancer. That being said, there are a number of factors that have been proven to increase your risk of developing the disease.
Aside from age, there are a number of other important factors to consider:
- Diet – Dietary research is still being conducted regarding the link between certain foods (specifically those that are high in calcium) and prostate cancer.
- Obesity – While a balanced diet and regular exercise have been proven to support you in reducing the symptoms of an enlarged prostate, there is also research that suggests obesity increases your likelihood of developing cancer cells.
- Family history – If your brother or father has developed prostate cancer, there is an increased possibility that you will as well. In addition, should a close female relative suffer from breast cancer, your likelihood of prostate cancer is increased.
- Ethnicity – African Americans are 1.7 times more likely than white men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. 1 in 6 African Americans will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Asian men, however, are less likely to develop the disease.
Just as there is no confirmed cause of prostate cancer, there is no way to lower your likelihood of developing the disease. However, maintaining a balanced diet and regular exercise may help in addressing some of the symptoms.
How do I get diagnosed?
While this article will not detail the entire diagnostic process, it is important to destigmatize the procedures involved. Additionally, there is no definitive test for prostate cancer, so your experience may vary from others.
The diagnostic process typically begins with your doctor asking for a urine sample so they can check for infection. They could also take a blood sample that will test your prostate-specific antigen level. Alternatively, they may choose to examine your prostate via a digital rectal examination. This is perhaps the best-known means of identifying the condition.
Following any of the above, your doctor will factor the results against age, family history and ethnicity. Should they consider you at risk, you will be recommended an MRI scan.
If your scan reveals something, you will likely receive a biopsy. The two most common forms are:
- Transrectal – This is where a needle is inserted into the prostate through your rectum.
- Transperineal – This is where a needle is inserted into the prostate through the skin behind the scrotum.
Once performed, the tissue extracted from the biopsy is studied. At this stage, should cancerous cells be found, doctors will attempt to ascertain how quickly the cancer will spread. This allows them to recommend a treatment most suitable to your circumstances
Can I live with prostate cancer?
Yes. Aside from urinary incontinence, prostate cancer can often occur without symptoms. If so, you should be able to continue your everyday activities with relative ease.
However, you may feel anxious or depressed as a direct result of your diagnosis and current situation. The pressure of cancer on you and your family dynamic cannot be understated, which is why it is important to consider its emotional impact and access support whenever you need it. Talk to family or friends, or your doctor can recommend dedicated group meetings.
What you might not be expecting is difficulty getting and sustaining an erection, although it is a typical side effect of prostate cancer treatment and commonly affects men over a certain age. Should this complication arise, your doctor may recommend the phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor, sildenafil. Also known as Viagra, this drug works by increasing the blood supply to your penis.
If you have recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer or feel affected by similar symptoms, you can speak to one of our pharmacists today. We understand that cancer can be daunting, which is why we aim to make the management process much more straightforward and affordable through realistically priced medication.
Prostate cancer is a serious condition. However, remember that it is not fatal for the majority of those diagnosed. Provided the disease is managed and you stay in control of your symptoms, you are highly likely to stay healthy for the immediate future.