Most of the early prostate cancer warning signs involve changes in the way you pass water. This is because the enlarged prostate presses on the tube from your bladder.
This article on prostate cancer symptoms & warning signs is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
Where is the prostate and what is prostate cancer?
The prostate is a small organ, found only in men, that is wrapped around the tube that carries urine away from the bladder. It plays an important role in producing the fluid that, when added to sperm from the testes, creates semen.
Prostate cancer occurs when one or more of the cells of the prostate begin to multiply at a greater rate than normal, forming a tumour. This may stay localised to the prostate, or may spread to other areas of the body such as the liver or the bones.
Why should I look out for warning signs?
Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in British men and the second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer. Around 35,000 men are diagnosed with the condition in the UK every year and around 10,000 men die from it. However, treatments are available and these are most effective when started as early as possible.
Keeping a careful look out for prostate cancer warning signs is vital if you are to catch the disease in the early stages. The trouble is that prostate cancer does not produce any signs or symptoms in the very early days of its development. By the time obvious prostate cancer warning signs appear, the disease may be in an advanced stage.
What are the early warning signs?
Most of the early prostate cancer symptoms involve changes in the way you pass water. This is because the enlarged prostate presses on the tube from your bladder. The most common prostate cancer warning signs include:
- A frequent need to urinate, especially at night
- Weak or intermittent flow of urine
- Difficulty starting urination
- Pain or burning sensation when urinating
- Blood in your urine
Other symptoms occur less frequently and involve your reproductive performance; they can also occur in men without prostate cancer. These include:
- Difficulty obtaining or maintaining an erection
- Painful ejaculation
- Blood in the semen
Am I at risk?
Statistics show that there are certain environmental factors that affect your chances of getting prostate cancer. If you are at risk from one or more of these, then you should check more regularly for prostate cancer warning signs.
- Prostate cancer risk, like the risk of most cancers, increases with age. Most cases occur at 50 years and older, with 60% of diagnosed cases being men over 70.
- Prostate cancer is more common in men who have an immediate relative who has had either prostate cancer or breast cancer.
- Men from Western Africa or the Caribbean are more prone to prostate cancer, with Asian men the least vulnerable.
Do a warning signs always indicate cancer?
No: it is important to remember that prostate cancer symptoms do not automatically mean you have prostate cancer. The same symptoms can indicate other problems with the prostate, including acute or chronic infections, which can be treated with simple antibiotics. A non-cancerous enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH) may also cause the same symptoms.
What should I do if I spot its warning signs?
As discussed above, the treatment for prostate cancer is most effective when started as early as possible. So, however scared you may feel, you should never hide from the prostate cancer warning signs, hoping that they will go away or that they might mean something else.
As soon as you spot any prostate cancer warning signs, you should consult your GP without delay. He or she will perform a series of tests, including a rectal exam, to establish if the prostate is enlarged. If cancer is diagnosed, treatment can then start as soon as possible.
Modern treatments are very effective, with as many as 70% of newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients now surviving beyond five years, compared to just 30% in the 1970s.
Don’t wait for warning signs
The early stages of prostate cancer may have no symptoms at all, and by the time prostate cancer warning signs appear, the cancer can be well established. If you fall into one or more of the high-risk groups mentioned above, it is particularly important that you have regular checkups with your GP, even if you have no symptoms. Your GP can perform a blood test, called a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which may show the presence of cancer long before physical prostate cancer warning signs appear. This test is not perfect and may give a false positive or may miss some cancers, giving you false reassurance. Nonetheless, it is worth asking your GP for an annual PSA test as it increases your chances of catching prostate cancer early and getting greater benefit from the available treatment.
Keeping a check on warning signs is worth it
Your health is in your hands, and looking out for prostate cancer warning signs is one way that you can take care of that health. Remember, 70% of men now live beyond five years after diagnosis; being aware of the warning signs and seeking treatment as soon as possible can make a big difference.