The prostate is a nut-sized gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It secretes fluid that makes up part of the semen. The prostate wraps around the urethra like a doughnut. The urethra is the tube that carries urine and sperm out of the body to the tip of the penis. Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting men. One in 7 men will develop prostate cancer in his lifetime.
In the early stages, prostate cancer often causes no signs or symptoms. Symptoms begin to appear when the tumour increases in size and puts pressure on the urethra. At that point, men may experience difficult, painful or frequent urination. The following symptoms may also be observed:
- Urinary urgency
- Weak or intermittent urine flow
- Feeling that the bladder does not empty completely
- Blood in urine or sperm
- Painful ejaculation
Some of the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostate cancer are the same. The reason is that as men age, the prostate tends to increase in size, blocking the urethra.
Risk factors that increase the risk of developing prostate cancer include:
- Being over the age of 65 years
- Having a close family relative who has had prostate cancer
- Being of African descent
- Eating a high fat diet
Having benign prostatic hyperplasia does not raise your risk of developing prostate cancer.
Screening and diagnosis
It is usually recommended that screening for prostate cancer start at age 50. The doctor generally performs a digital rectal examination and, if any abnormalities are detected, a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test is ordered. A variety of imaging techniques can also be used to confirm a diagnosis.
If the cancer is diagnosed at an advanced stage, tumour cells may have already spread through blood circulation, encouraging the growth of other tumours.
Prostate cancer grows very slowly and is often detected early, which means that treatment is often quite successful. Treatment options include radiation therapy (destruction of cancer cells using radiation), hormone therapy or surgery. The operation requires a five- to 10-day hospitalization and the placement of a catheter in the urethra to evacuate urine. Removal of the prostate causes sterility and may cause erectile dysfunction, and sometimes urinary incontinence.
In some situations, it is preferable to adopt and wait and watch approach and to treat only if necessary.
When it comes to preventing prostate cancer, diet plays a very important role. Avoiding fats and increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables is key. It has been shown that lycopene (found in tomatoes among others) and all foods belonging to the cabbage family are especially beneficial in preventing prostate cancer.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.
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