One in eight males within the UK will develop a prostate. Cancer at some point in their life.
This makes it the most common type of cancer for men in the UK – but it’s also the most treatable, with a 10-year survival rate of 98%, according to Cancer.net.
Research shows that about one-third of men put off prostate cancer screening, due to fear of receiving a diagnosis and the side effects of treatment, among other things.
But these checks could potentially be life-saving, and in early 2022 the NHS and charity Prostate Cancer UK urged men to get checked in a campaign that has been shown to be successful.
If you’re wondering how to get checked, here’s what you need to know – plus signs to be aware of.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in the male pelvis.
It is located between the penis and the bladder, and surrounds the urethra.
The main function of the prostate is to produce a thick white fluid that mixes with sperm from the testicles to form semen.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
- A need to urinate more often, often at night
- Need to hurry to the toilet
- Difficulty starting to urinate
- Straining or taking a long time to urinate
- Weak flow
- Feeling that your bladder has not emptied completely.
- Blood in the urine or blood in the semen.
However, symptoms do not appear until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the urethra.
This is why it is recommended that you get regular checkups, even without symptoms.
However, practicing GP and clinical technology lead LloydsPharmacy’s online doctor, Dr Sameer Singhvi reminds us: ‘Prostate cancer is slow growing and therefore you may not have any symptoms for years.’
‘Symptoms will usually only appear when the prostate is large enough to affect the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the tip of the penis.’
‘This is why it’s so important to get tested if you have any concerns.’
How to book a prostate cancer checkup
There is no specific process for booking a prostate checkup, so simply book an appointment with your GP, and tell them the day you want the checkup.
If you would be more comfortable being checked by a male doctor, you should tell the receptionist when you are booking.
During your appointment, your GP will access your risk of prostate cancer based on factors such as your age and race.
After that they will be able to take the preliminary exam.
Prostate Cancer UK has also created a quick 30 second test to access your risk at home.
During the test you’ll be asked three questions about your age, race, and family history of the disease – all of which can affect your chances of getting it.
However, it is still recommended that you get checked by your doctor even if your risk factor is low.
Despite how common this cancer may be, it’s worth noting that there are. There is no routine NHS prostate screening programme..
Dr Singhvi has said: ‘For various reasons (such as questions about the reliability of the test) there is currently no prostate screening program in the UK.
‘However, men over 50 can arrange a blood test after talking to their GP.’
‘This service may be available to you after the age of 45 if you are black or have a family history of prostate cancer.’
What does a prostate exam include?
Many people feel nervous or embarrassed about getting their prostate checked, but it’s a painless and fairly quick process.
The exam may include a doctor examining your prostate gland.
To do this, your doctor inserts a gloved finger into your rectum to check for unusual symptoms, such as a lump or a hard prostate. This test is called a digital rectal exam (DRE).
However, Dr. Singhvi reminds us that this is not the only option available.
“Men are often worried about prostate testing because they think it involves a digital rectal exam (or in other words a physical rectal exam),” said Dr Singhvi.
‘But it’s not – blood tests and MRIs are some of the less invasive ways to check for prostate cancer.’
‘Also, while I understand why rectal exams can be embarrassing for patients, I like to remind men that they shouldn’t be painful and that they go away very quickly.’
You may also be asked to provide a urine sample and have a blood test, while further testing may include an MRI scan or a biopsy.
What is the treatment for prostate cancer?
If you test positive for cancer, there are many different treatment options available.
Your GP and dedicated cancer support team will discuss the best options for you.
This may include radiotherapy, high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), cryotherapy, hormone treatment, or surgical removal of the prostate.
However, you may not need treatment.
If the cancer is in an early stage and is not causing symptoms, your doctor may suggest either ‘watchful waiting’ or ‘active surveillance’.
This will depend on many factors, including your age and overall health.
Can women get prostate cancer?
Women do not have a prostate and thus cannot develop prostate cancer.
However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be aware of similar cancers that can affect them.
Dr Singhvi says: ‘It may seem obvious that women can’t get prostate cancer because they don’t have a prostate.’
‘However, although very rare, there is a type of cancer that affects the sebaceous glands that women can be affected by.’
‘Skene’s glands are a group of glands and ducts in the front of the vagina that are similar in structure to the prostate.’
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