Not many men know much about the prostate, yet prostate cancer is the most common cancer seen in men and kills over 9,000 people every year in England and Wales.
So what is it? Well, it’s a small gland between the penis and the bladder that surrounds the urethra—that’s the tube through which urine flows. It helps make the fluid that carries sperm out of the body during ejaculation.
As a man grows older, his risks of prostate problems increase significantly, especially after the age of 65. There are 3 main issues that can occur:
- Prostatitis is inflammation of the prostate gland and might include symptoms such as pain in the pelvis, discomfort when urinating and ejaculating. It can affect men of any age, and in its various forms, around 1 in 5 men in the UK will suffer from it. Fortunately it’s usually easy to treat with a dose of antibiotics, though chronic cases can require more invasive treatments, such as prostate massage.
- Another common prostate problem is what is known as benign prostate enlargement. The prostate continues to grow as men get older, so it can squeeze the urethra and slow or stop the flow of urine from the bladder. Treatment options for this condition range from medications to reduce the prostate growth, through to surgical solutions that remove portions of the gland. If you are a sufferer, there are also lifestyle changes that can be made to reduce the impact of the symptoms, such as avoiding drinking liquids before going to bed and reducing your caffeine intake.
- Thirdly, the most serious condition that can affect the prostate is a cancerous growth.
The underlying causes are not totally understood, but there are some risk factors that we know play a part. Age is important, as 70% of all cancer cases occur in men over 65. A family history of the disease also heightens risk, as does ethnicity, with men of African descent more susceptible. Diet plays a role as well, with men eating a western diet seemingly at a higher risk.
If you are displaying any symptoms I’ve been talking about, you should really talk to your GP about a prostate check-up. Many men are put off by this, perhaps due to the fact that the prostate is checked using a digital rectal examination, where a doctor inserts their finger into the rectum and touches the surface of the gland. If it’s hard and bumpy, it may be a sign of prostate cancer, while if it’s smooth and firm, it’s more likely to be a benign enlargement.
There are several options for treating prostate cancer, and what’s right for one man may not be best for another.
For some, the best treatment can be no treatment at all. If there’s not a significant risk that the cancer will spread, some choose not to undergo treatment as the side effects can include a loss of sexual desire, the inability to have an erection and sometimes urinary incontinence. In these circumstances, regular monitoring of the prostate is carried out to check for any worsening of the cancer.
If treatment is required, then the options include radiation therapy–-often utilising embeddable pellets—or hormone therapy, to restrict the male hormone that the cancer cells need to grow.
The most invasive treatment method involves a partial or total removal of the prostate, but in around 40% of cases, the cancer can spread to the surrounding tissue. In these circumstances, chemotherapy must be utilised as well.
Prostate cancer can’t be prevented, but you can take measures to significantly reduce your risks or possibly slow the disease’s development.
Diet is important, so eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and whole fibres. These all contain antioxidants that prevent cells from being damaged. The most important of these is called lycopene and it’s found in tomatoes, grapefruit and watermelon.
Avoid eating large amounts of red meat and dairy products and remember that exercise is also really important, as it strengthens your immune system and helps reduce the risk of cancer occurring.
So when should you get checked? Well, currently in the UK there’s no screening programme for prostate cancer as it’s not been proven that early diagnosis of the disease will significantly reduce deaths from it. Instead, if you start displaying any symptoms such as pain in your pelvis, weakened flow when urinating, pain when ejaculating or difficulty in emptying your bladder, then go and see your GP for a check-up.
Many prostate problems are benign, and numerous treatment options are available. Even in the most serious cases of prostate cancer, treatment is much more effective when caught early.
Dr Pixie presents a special video looking at the prostate and the various problems that can develop with it. The prostate is one of the few parts of the body that continues to grow as a man gets older, and this can lead to a number of problems that range from the benign, to the life-threatening. This video guide explains the process of getting your prostate checked, explains the various problems that can occur, and also provides advice on lifestyle changes that can be made.
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