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Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that affects the prostate gland, which plays a role in the male reproductive system.

A sad-looking man

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), prostate cancer is the most common cancer among white South African males. The National Cancer Registry’s 2008 statistics puts the lifetime risk across all race groups at one in 28 men developing the disease.

Specific prostate cancer causes are unknown, but prostate cancer risk factors include:

  • Advanced age (70 is the average age at diagnosis)
  • A family history of prostate or breast cancer. Genetics play a role here, with families with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, which amplifies breast cancer risk, being more prone to prostate cancer too
  • High blood pressure (hypertension).

What are its symptoms?

Prostate cancer symptoms sometimes only appear in the advanced stages of the disease. Signs and symptoms of the disease include:

  • Urination problems, such as more frequent urination, urination at night, difficulty starting or stopping urination, or weak stream. These issues arise because the cancer presses on the neighbouring urethra.
  • Pelvic pain
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Pain when ejaculating
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Deep bone pain – indicative that the cancer has spread to the bones, most often the vertebrae, ribs or pelvis.

How is it diagnosed?

There are various tests that can pick up if there is something wrong with the prostate, including:

  • A digital rectal examination
  • A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test to measure whether the amount of PSA, a substance produced by the prostate, in the blood is normal or not (too much PSA can indicate infection, inflammation or cancer)
  • An ultrasound to get an image of the prostate
  • However, a biopsy of the gland remains the only conclusive test for prostate cancer. This will search for cancer cells and, if found, help doctors determine how aggressive the cancer is, that is, what stage it’s at.

What are your treatment options?

There are numerous prostate cancer treatment options, ranging from ‘active surveillance’ (not taking any action but keeping an eye on it in very low risk cases) through to surgery to remove the gland itself, or radiation therapy which can use an external beam to kill the cancer cells or radioactive ‘seeds’ placed in the prostate (brachytherapy).

Hormone therapy to halt testosterone production in the body is another form of treatment, as this type of cancer needs testosterone to grow.

Chemotherapy is an option when the cancer has spread beyond the prostate or in cases that don’t respond to hormone therapy.

Can it be prevented?

As so much remains to be understood about the causes of the disease, prostate cancer prevention focuses largely on healthier living. Some studies have indicated that there may be lower prostate cancer rates in vegetarians, while other research indicates that regular exercise may play a role in decreasing your risk.

A class of drugs called 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors may be used to lower overall risk in high-risk cases, but this is controversial as some evidence indicates that their use may increase the risk of developing more serious types of prostate cancer.

What to do now
Clicks Clinics can help you with the following tests:

  • Blood Pressure Test
  • Cholesterol Testing and Consultation
  • Lipogram Blood Test (to determine different types of cholesterol)
  • PSA (prostate specific antigen) screening

To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online.

For more info
The Cancer Association of South Africa

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in May 2015
Read More: Cancer Super Section