It’s a tricky thing that prostate cancer. You’re pleasantly going through life, on top of the world and feeling great when wham, you get hit by a sledgehammer; you’re diagnosed with prostate cancer.
That’s what happened to me anyway. There simply were no signs or symptoms that I had prostate cancer. I felt fit, happy; at the top of my game as they say. I just happened to go for a routine medical through work and quickly found out the state of my health was not as good as I thought.
I was 46 and had aggressive prostate cancer – wham!
So what is the prostate?
This is not a stupid question as 2 out of 3 adults don’t know what the prostate does; I certainly didn’t before I was diagnosed. I do however think it’s important to understand more about the prostate in order to understand the impact of prostate cancer so do bear with me.
The prostate gland produces a thick clear fluid that forms an important part of semen; is the size of a walnut and is positioned below the bladder, surrounding the tube or urethra that carries urine from the bladder to the penis.
That’s it – biology lesson over!
Prostate cancer can be very slow growing and may not cause any problems through a man’s life. In fact by the age of 80, many men will have some cancer cells in their prostate but only 1 in 25 will actually die as a result of the illness.
Having said that there are instances, like mine, where growth is more aggressive so it is important to know how to protect yourself.
Who is at risk?
Of course my situation isn’t common place as I was relatively young – one of the only times in my life when being told I was young wasn’t a compliment.
Prostate cancer affects around 1 in 8 men in the UK who are typically over 50 years old, with the risk increasing as you age. In fact the average age for men being diagnosed with prostate cancer is between 70 and 74 so as you can see, I was the exception to the rule
You carry an increased risk if you have a family history of prostate cancer and also if you have close relatives with breast cancer, so courtesy of my father being diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of 68 and my mother having breast cancer in her early 70s, I managed to tick both those boxes.
You also have a greater chance of getting prostate cancer if you are black, with the likelihood increasing to 1 in 4 men in the UK. The reason for this is still being investigated but is likely to be linked to genes.
What are the signs of prostate cancer?
Early stage prostate cancer often does not come with any symptoms so it is important to consider if you carry a greater risk and talk to your GP about whether screening is worthwhile.
Some men however do have symptoms which should not be ignored which include:
• Having to rush to the toilet for a wee or going more often than usual
• Experiencing difficulty when passing urine or feeling you can’t go properly
• More rare is pain when going to the loo or finding blood in your urine or semen
How do you protect yourself?
There has been talk over the years about screening but the difficulty is that test results can be misleading in that they could show irregular signs that are not necessarily serious, resulting in men having unnecessary treatment.
Having said that, if you are experiencing any symptoms or are over 45 and have a greater risk of getting prostate cancer, then talk to your GP.
The most important thing is don’t hide your head in the sand. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with over 40,000 men being diagnosed every year. It is also often very treatable if diagnosed in its early stages so why hang about? Take it from someone who knows, it’s just not worth the risk.
For more information on prostate cancer, visit Prostate Cancer UK