Prostate Cancer: causes, symptoms and the impact of delayed diagnosis

Leonie Millard
Leonie Millard

Published: November 22nd, 2022

7 min

1 in 8 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. If you're over 50, or a person of colour, or your dad or brother had it, you're at even higher risk. It is the most common cancer in men.

Prostate cancer is not always life-threatening. But when it is, the earlier you catch it the more likely it is to be cured.

What is the prostate?

The prostate is a small gland in the pelvis and is part of the male reproductive system. About the size of a walnut, it's located between the penis and the bladder, and surrounds the urethra.

The main function of the prostate is to produce a thick white fluid that creates semen when mixed with the sperm produced by the testicles.

Prostate cancer usually develops slowly, so there may be no signs for many years.

Symptoms of prostate cancer:

Symptoms of prostate cancer do not usually appear until the prostate is large enough to affect the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the penis (urethra).

When this happens, you may notice things like:

  • an increased need to urinate

  • straining while you urinate

  • a feeling that your bladder has not fully emptied.

These symptoms should not be ignored, but they do not mean you have prostate cancer. It's more likely they're caused by something else, such as prostate enlargement.

Causes of prostate cancer:

The causes of prostate cancer are largely unknown. But certain things can increase your risk of developing the condition such as family history, obesity and age.

Tests for prostate cancer:

There's no single test for prostate cancer. The most commonly used tests for prostate cancer are:

  • blood tests

  • a physical examination of your prostate (known as a digital rectal examination, or DRE)

  • an MRI scan

  • a biopsy.

PSA testing

The blood test, called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, measures the level of PSA and may help detect early prostate cancer.

If you are over 50, you can ask a GP for a PSA test.

PSA tests are not routinely used to screen for prostate cancer, as results can be unreliable. Your PSA level can also be raised by other, non-cancerous conditions.

Raised PSA levels also cannot tell a doctor whether you have life-threatening prostate cancer or not.

If you have a raised PSA level, you may be offered an MRI scan of the prostate to help doctors decide if you need further tests and treatment.

What is the treatment for prostate cancer?

If you do have prostate cancer, you may not need treatment. If the cancer is at an early stage and not causing symptoms, your doctor may suggest either "watchful waiting" or "active surveillance". The best option depends on your age and overall health. Both options involve carefully monitoring your condition. Some cases of prostate cancer can be cured if treated in the early stages. Treatments include:

  • surgically removing the prostate

  • radiotherapy - either on its own or alongside hormone therapy

  • Some cases are only diagnosed at a later stage, when the cancer has spread.

If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body and cannot be cured, treatment is focused on prolonging life and relieving symptoms.

All treatment options carry the risk of significant side effects, including erectile dysfunction and urinary symptoms, such as needing to use the toilet more urgently or more often.

For this reason, you may choose to delay treatment until there's a risk the cancer might spread.

Newer treatments, such as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) and cryotherapy, aim to reduce these side effects.

Impact on everyday activities

If you have no symptoms, prostate cancer should have little or no effect on your everyday activities. You should be able to work, care for your family, carry on your usual social and leisure activities, and look after yourself.

However, you may be understandably worried about your future. This may make you feel anxious or depressed and affect your sleep.

If your prostate cancer progresses, you may not feel well enough to do all the things you used to. After an operation or other treatment, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, you'll probably feel tired and need time to recover.

If you have advanced prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of your body, you may have symptoms that slow you down and make it difficult to do things. You may have to reduce your working hours or stop working altogether.

There are a number of cases whereby a number of middle-aged men have presented to their GP with problems of increased need to urinate, straining whilst urinating or feeling as though they have not completely emptied their bladder. This should lead to a GP advising PSA testing, although it is not 100% certain to eliminate or reveal cancer, it can assist with diagnosing the problem for this. However, it is likely to be negligent not to advise a patient to undergo a quick and simple blood test procedure which is available at all GP practices.

If you believe that this is the case for you or a loved one, then please do not hesitate to contact one of the team for some no win, no fee, no obligation advice regarding a delay in diagnosis claim for prostate cancer.

For further information relating to any of the issues raised in this article, please contact a member of the team by submitting our online enquiry form here. Alternatively get in touch using the details below.

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