The Prostate and Prostate Cancer – Some facts

What is the prostate?

The prostate is a sex gland found only in men. It lies at the base of the bladder, surrounding the tube called the urethra which carries urine and semen to the end of the penis. It is normally about the size of a walnut. A healthy prostate is essential to full sexual function. As men age, the gland becomes enlarged and can squeeze the urethra, giving a reduced urine flow. This can lead to problems with the prostate, more common in older men.


 In a recent survey of 3,500 men, 54% didn't know where their prostate was,
92% were clueless about its role and 17% didn't even know they had a prostate. 




Prostate cancer: who is at risk?

By the age of 60 many men will have developed some evidence of cancer in the prostate. Once regarded as the curse of older men, younger men are being diagnosed in their 50s, and occasionally in their 40s and even late 30s.

Men of African-Caribbean origin and those with a family history of the disease are especially at risk. A rare variant of prostate cancer is caused by a faulty BRCA gene, so a strong family history of breast or prostate cancer, particularly at a young age, may therefore be a warning signal.

‘Pussycats and tigers’

Evidence of cancer in the prostate need not necessarily be a cause for immediate concern, as many cancers grow so slowly that they may never develop to be life-threatening.

Prostate cancer has now been shown to have several variants. Research is progressing to predict more accurately the different types, and to identify which cancers are slow-growing and which are aggressive.

Most prostate cancers are found in the outer part of the prostate, called the peripheral zone. The slow-growing cancers, the ‘pussy-cats’, may stay here, unnoticed and indolent, for many years. These may only require careful monitoring, without necessarily needing any radical treatment at all. The more aggressive ‘tigers’, however, have the potential to spread outside the prostate, sometimes quite rapidly, when symptoms may become noticeable. These will need active treatment, ideally before the cancer starts to spread outside the prostate and invade other areas of the body.


Some facts

  • Prostate Cancer is the most common cancer in men.
  • Each year in the UK over 47,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and about 11,000 die of it.
  • If the cancer is confined within the prostate, it is generally curable, so early detection may prevent death from prostate cancer.
  • Urinary symptoms (e.g. difficulty in passing urine or frequent night-time visits) may indicate cancer, but could also be caused by an enlarged prostate or an infection.
  • Prostate cancer in its early stages does not normally have any symptoms.
  • Early stage disease offers a much wider choice of treatment options — more than any other cancer.
  • Once the cancer begins to spread outside the prostate, there are fewer options for treatment, though there may still be possibilities for a cure.
  • If the cancer has spread to other organs or the bones, the disease can only be controlled. 



What causes prostate cancer?

Although the causes are not yet fully known, there is clear evidence of links to diet and lifestyle.The Diet and Lifestyle section gives some advice on this. Lack of exercise, obesity, and low exposure to sunlight can also be contributory factors. There are also genetic links, so it is important for every man to be aware of the disease, and to see his GP if he has concerns.