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Prostate cancer usually develops slowly, so there may be no signs you have it for many years.
Prostate cancer does not normally cause symptoms until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the urethra. This normally results in problems associated with urination.
Symptoms can include:
- Needing to urinate more frequently, often during the night
- needing to rush to the toilet
- difficulty in starting to urinate
- straining or taking a long time while urinating
- weak flow
- feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully.
These symptoms shouldn’t be ignored but they do not mean you definitely have prostate cancer.
Testing for prostate cancer
There is no single test for prostate cancer. All the tests used to help diagnose the condition have benefits and risks, which your doctor should discuss with you.
The most commonly used tests for prostate cancer are blood tests, a physical examination of your prostate (known as a digital rectal examination or DRE) and a biopsy.
The blood test, known as a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, measures the level of PSA and may help detect early prostate cancer.
Men are not routinely offered PSA tests to screen for prostate cancer as results can be unreliable. This is because the PSA blood test is not specific to prostate cancer.
PSA can be raised due to a large non-cancerous growth of the prostate (BPH), a urinary tract infection or inflammation of the prostate as well as prostate cancer.
Raised PSA levels also cannot tell a doctor whether a man has life-threatening prostate cancer or not. This means that a raised PSA can lead to unnecessary tests and treatment.
How is prostate cancer treated?
For many men with prostate cancer, treatment is not immediately necessary.
If the cancer is at an early stage and not causing symptoms, a policy of ‘watchful waiting’ or ‘active surveillance’ may be adopted. This involves carefully monitoring your condition.
Some cases of prostate cancer can be cured if treated in the early stages. Treatments include surgically removing the prostate, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.
Some cases are only diagnosed at a later stage when the cancer has spread. If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, typically the bones, it cannot be cured and treatment is focused on prolonging life and relieving symptoms.
All treatment options carry the risk of significant side effects, including erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence. For this reason, many men choose to delay treatment until there is a risk the cancer might spread.
What action should I take now?
If you are over 50-years-old, it is important to consult your GP to discuss the risk of prostate cancer and consider having tests to check the health of your prostate.