An overview of prostate cancer and who is at risk

If you are a seemingly fit and healthy male in the prime of life, perhaps prostate cancer may not be something you consider too much. However, as we approach Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (starting tomorrow) men should be aware that it is actually the most common kind of male cancer.

Just in the UK alone, there are an estimated 36,000 – 40,000 new cases of the disease diagnosed each year and it is responsible for a quarter of all newly diagnosed cases of cancer in men. Of these new cases, unfortunately just under a third will tragically succumb to the cancer because it has not been identified and treated at an early enough stage.

The fact remains that approximately 9 out of 10 adults are unaware what the prostate gland does, so clearly it is a subject that men need to clue themselves up on and be able to spot the early signs and symptoms before it develops.

Prostate Cancer UK (formerly known as The Prostate Cancer Charity) are spearheading Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, aiming to reach out to men and spread the word about prostate cancer and even provide a contact number  – 0800 074 8383 – whereby any male with concerns can ring them and speak to a specialist nurse.

So what is the prostate gland? Well, it is located at the base of your bladder and is only around the size of a walnut. Before using its muscles to expel semen during ejaculation, it produces the liquid part of semen and also creates prostate-specific antigen (PSA) – a protein that turns your semen into a liquid.

Most cases of prostate cancer are relatively slow in growth however some can spread to other areas in the body, particularly the bones and lymph nodes – small bean-shaped glands located throughout the body that help it to identify and fight germs, infections, and other foreign substances.

Symptoms of the cancer are not usually apparent until the disease has become big enough to cause pressure on the urethra and initial symptoms may be similar to non-cancerous conditions such as an enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia. They include: having to urinate more frequently, difficulty beginning to urinate, a feeling that your bladder has not been fully emptied and a weak flow of urine.

Signs that the cancer has spread around the body include bone and back pain, a loss in appetite, pain or discomfort in the testicles and sudden weight loss. If you are suffering with any symptoms similar to these you should visit your own GP as soon as possible for a check-up. The earlier prostate cancer is spotted – the better chance of treatment being effective and a full recovery can be made.

It is still not fully established the specific reasons for what causes prostate cancer, although there are a number of known risk factors which include:

. Age – For most cases of prostate cancer, it is usually in men over the age of 50.

. Ethnic group – The cancer is more prominent in men of African-Caribbean and African descent and rare among men of Asian and South and Central American descent.

. Family history – If you have a father, uncle or brother who has had prostate cancer, there is a risk you may develop it as well.

. Obesity – If you are obese (a Body Mass Index of between 30 and 40) this has been shown to increase your chances of developing prostate cancer.

. Exercise  Men who regularly exercise can cut their chances of developing prostate cancer according to research.

. Diet  Many health experts claim that a high-calcium diet can raise the risk of developing prostate cancer.

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