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Prostate cancer

Overview

The prostate is a small gland about the size of a walnut located between a man’s penis and bladder. It surrounds the urethra which is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the penis. The prostate’s main function is to help produce semen.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and the chances of developing this type of cancer increase with age. The symptoms don’t usually appear until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the urethra and can include:

  • needing to urinate more frequently, often during the night
  • needing to rush to the toilet
  • difficulty in starting to urinate (hesitancy)
  • straining or taking a long time while urinating
  • a weak flow while urinating
  • feeling that your bladder is not completely empty once you have urinated.

These symptoms should be investigated by your doctor, but they don’t mean you have prostate cancer. Many men’s prostates get larger as they get older due to a non-cancerous condition known as 'benign prostatic hyperplasia' or prostate enlargement.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Prostate cancer, Symptoms of prostate cancer)

Just diagnosed

The outlook for prostate cancer is generally good because it usually progresses very slowly. A man can live for decades without having any symptoms or needing any treatment.

There are a number of known risk factors for developing prostate cancer which include:

  • Age - the risk of prostate cancer rises with age, from about 50 years, and increases as you get older
  • family history - having a close male relative who had prostate cancer seems to increase the risk
  • obesity, diet and exercise - recent research suggests that there may be a link between obesity and prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer can usually be cured if it is treated in its early stages. Treatments include removing the prostate, hormone therapy and radiotherapy (using radiation to kill the cancerous cells).

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Prostate cancer, Causes of prostate cancer)

Living with

If you have no symptoms, prostate cancer should have little or no effect on your everyday activities. You should be able to work, care for your family, carry on your usual social and leisure activities and look after yourself.

If your prostate cancer progresses, you may not feel well enough to do all the things you used to. After an operation or other treatment, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, you will probably feel tired and need time to recover.

If you have advanced prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of your body, you may have symptoms that slow you down and make it difficult to do things. You may have to reduce your working hours or stop working altogether. Whatever stage your prostate cancer has reached, try to give yourself time to do the things you enjoy and spend time with those who care about you.

There are also complications associated with prostate cancer including erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia can provide more information on prostate cancer through their website www.prostate.org.au, or by calling 1800 220 099.

Sources: NHS Choices, UK (Prostate cancer, Living with prostate cancer), Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (homepage)

Facts & figures

  • The chances of being diagnosed with prostate cancer are:
  • 1 in 1,000 for a man in his 40s
  • 12 in 1,000 for a man in his 50s
  • 45 in 1000 for a man in his 60s 
  • 80 in 1,000 for a man in his 70s.
  • Prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer in Australian men and the second most common cause of cancer deaths in men.
  • 1 in 9 men in Australia will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime.
  • Around 20,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year in Australia.
  • About 3,300 men die of prostate cancer every year in Australia, which exceeds the number of women who die from breast cancer each year.
  • The five-year survival rate for prostate cancer has increased considerably, from 58% in the period 1982-87 to 92% in 2006-10.

Sources: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Cancer in Australia 2010: an overview - PDF document, Cancer survival has improved over time in Australia), Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (Prostate Cancer Statistics)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013