What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. It develops when cells in the prostate begin to grow abnormally and form a tumour. Most prostate cancers grow slowly, but some can grow and spread quickly, so it’s important to be aware of symptoms and get any changes checked as soon as possible. Prostate cancer is highly treatable, particularly when diagnosed at an early stage.

The prostate is a gland which only men have and is normally about the size and shape of a walnut. The prostate sits under the bladder and surrounds the urethra, through which men pass urine and semen. 

Almost all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas. These cancers develop from the gland cells (the cells that make the prostate fluid that is added to the semen).

Symptoms of prostate cancer

Knowing the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer makes it easier to spot any changes and have them checked. It may not be anything serious, but finding cancer early makes it easier to treat.

  • Rushing to the loo and needing to urinate more often at night 
  • Difficulty starting to urinate 
  • Taking a long time to urinate or a weak flow of urine
  • Blood in your urine or semen
  • Back pain, hip pain or pelvis pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
If you have any of these symptoms, speak to your GP.

Risk factors of prostate cancer

The risk of developing prostate cancer increases as you get older, mainly affecting men over the age of 50. Although the risk of developing prostate cancer is low under the age of 50 it is possible. Other risk factors include a family history and ethnicity, with black African and Caribbean men being two to three times more likely than white men to develop prostate cancer.

If you are over the age of 50 you may want to speak to your GP or a Consultant specialist about your prostate health and checks that can be done for prostate cancer. If you have a family history or are a black man over the age of 45 you may want to speak to your GP or a Consultant specialist about your risk of developing prostate cancer.

Inherited risk

If you have a family history of prostate cancer, you may be worried about developing it yourself. The majority of prostate cancers occur in men without a family history, but in some cases prostate cancer can be related to an inherited genetic risk. This means you may have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer based on a history of cancer in your family.

If your father or brother has been diagnosed with prostate cancer this increases your risk of developing prostate cancer. The risk further increases if you have several relatives affected, especially if they were under 50 when they were diagnosed. 

There are also a number of inherited gene changes or mutations which can increase your risk of prostate cancer, though these only account for a small number of cases. Two of the genes which increase your risk of prostate cancer and can be tested for are BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Men with Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC), a condition caused by inherited gene changes, also have an increased risk for a number of cancers, including prostate cancer.

If you have a family history of prostate cancer you may choose to have a cancer genetic test to discover whether you are carrying a genetic mutation that could cause cancer. If you are diagnosed with one of these genetic conditions, risk-reducing strategies, such as increased screening, means that many of these cancers can be avoided or caught at an early stage.

The 10 most commonly asked questions about prostate cancer

One in eight men in the UK will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men. Here, Niaz Khan, GP at Roodlane Medical, part of HCA Healthcare UK, answers the top 10 questions he gets asked by patients about prostate cancer, including questions about risk factors, symptoms and the impact treatment can have. 


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