Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the prostate.

The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system. It lies just below the bladder (the organ that collects and empties urine) and in front of the rectum (the lower part of the intestine). It is about the size of a walnut and surrounds part of the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder). The prostate gland makes fluid that is part of the semen.

Prostate cancer is most common in older men. It is estimated that around 1 in 5 men in Europe are diagnosed with prostate cancer during their life.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by prostate cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Weak or interrupted (“stop-and-go”) flow of urine.
  • Sudden urge to urinate.
  • Frequent urination (especially at night).
  • Trouble starting the flow of urine.
  • Trouble emptying the bladder completely.
  • Pain or burning while urinating.
  • Blood in the urine or semen.
  • A pain in the back, hips, or pelvis that does not go away.
  • Shortness of breath, feeling very tired, fast heartbeat, dizziness, or pale skin caused by anaemia.

It should be noted that, as men age, the prostate may get bigger and block the urethra or bladder. This may cause trouble urinating or sexual problems which may be similar to the conditions listed above. Always check with your doctors.

Tests that examine the prostate and blood are used to detect (find) and diagnose prostate cancer. These tests include:

  • Digital rectal exam: An exam of the rectum. The doctor or nurse inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum and feels the prostate through the rectal wall for lumps or abnormal areas.
  • Prostate-specific antigen test: A test that measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate that may be found in higher than normal amounts in the blood of men who have prostate cancer.
  • Transrectal ultrasound: A procedure in which a probe that is about the size of a finger is inserted into the rectum to check the prostate. The probe is used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram.
  • Transrectal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A procedure that uses a strong magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A probe that gives off radio waves is inserted into the rectum near the prostate. A transrectal MRI is done to find out if the cancer has spread outside the prostate into nearby tissues.

When prostate cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the prostate or to other parts of the body. There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

  • The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

Different types of treatment are available for patients with prostate cancer. They include Surgery, Radiation Therapy, Hormone therapy and Chemotherapy. Radiation Therapy (both external and internal) may be used as a first treatment for cancer or be ancillary to other treatments, especially surgery.
If the cancer is advanced, Radiation therapy may be used to help keep the cancer under control for as long as possible and to help prevent or relieve symptoms.

Depending on the exact characteristics of the tumour, Radiotherapy treatments for prostate cancer can last from 6 to 8 weeks.

Some tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are usually called follow-up tests or check-ups.