- Prostate cancer
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer begins when abnormal cells in the prostate gland start growing in an uncontrolled way.
In some cases, prostate cancer grows more slowly than other types of cancer. But sometimes prostate cancer can grow and spread quickly, so it is important to see your doctor about any symptoms or unusual test results promptly.
Learn more about:
The prostate is a small gland about the size of a walnut. It forms part of the male reproductive system. The prostate sits below the bladder, in front of the rectum and close to nerves, blood vessels and muscles that control erections and bladder function. These muscles include the pelvic floor muscles, a hammock-like layer of muscles at the base of the pelvis.
What the prostate does
The prostate produces fluid that helps to feed and protect sperm. This fluid forms part of semen. Semen also contains millions of sperm made by the testicles (testes), and fluid made by a pair of glands called the seminal vesicles. The seminal vesicles attach to the back of the prostate gland. Lymph nodes are also found near the prostate.
|Urethra||This is a thin tube that runs from the bladder and through the prostate to carry urine (wee or pee) out of the body. The urethra also carries semen during orgasm.|
|Ejaculation||When an orgasm occurs, millions of sperm from the testicles move through the tubes near the prostate called the vas deferens. The muscle around the prostate contracts and pushes the semen into the urethra and out through the penis.|
How the prostate grows
The male sex hormone, testosterone, is made by the testicles and controls how the prostate grows. It is normal for the prostate to become larger with age. This may lead to a condition known as benign prostate hyperplasia. Sometimes an enlarged prostate can cause problems, especially when passing urine.
Who gets prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men (apart from common skin cancers). There are about 18,000 new cases in Australia every year.
One in six men in Australia are at risk of developing prostate cancer by the age of 85. The risk of prostate cancer increases with age. It is uncommon in men younger than 50, although the risk is higher for younger men with a strong family history of prostate cancer, breast cancer or ovarian cancer, than for those without a family history.
How common is it?
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men (apart from common skin cancers). There are about 19,000 new cases in Australia every year.
What causes prostate cancer?
The causes of prostate cancer are unknown, but factors that can increase the risk include:
- older age – prostate cancer is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 60–79
- family history of prostate cancer – if your father or brother has had prostate cancer before the age of 60, your risk will be twice that of others
- strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, particularly BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.
While prostate cancer is less common if you are under 50, people aged 40–55 are at particular risk of developing prostate cancer later in life if their prostate specific antigen (PSA) test results are above the 95th percentile. This means their PSA levels are higher than 95% of other people in the same age range.
Inherited prostate cancer gene
You may have an inherited gene that increases your risk of prostate cancer if you have:
- several relatives on the same side of the family (either your mother’s or father’s side) diagnosed with prostate, breast and/or ovarian cancers
- a brother or father diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 60.
Ask your general practitioner (GP) whether you and others in your family need PSA testing. For more information, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Screening testsCancer screening is testing to look for cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. The benefit of screening is that the cancer can be treated early. It is important that this benefit outweighs any potential harms from treatment or its side effects.Unlike for bowel, breast and cervical cancers, there is no national screening program for prostate cancer. There remains debate among doctors regarding the pros and cons of PSA screening and whether there is an overall benefit.Some people without any symptoms of prostate cancer do choose to have regular PSA tests. Before having a PSA test, it is important to talk to your GP about the benefits and harms in your particular circumstances.For more information, visit PSA Testing.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Amy Hayden, Radiation Oncologist, Westmead and Blacktown Hospitals, and Chair, Faculty of Radiation Genito-Urinary Group (FROGG), The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, NSW; Prof Shomik Sengupta, Professor of Surgery and Deputy Head, Eastern Health Clinical School, Monash University, and Visiting Urologist and Uro-Oncology Lead, Urology Department, Eastern Health, VIC; A/Prof Arun Azad, Medical Oncologist, Urological and Prostate Cancers, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Ken Bezant, Consumer; Dr Marcus Dreosti, Radiation Oncologist, GenesisCare, and Clinical Strategy Lead, Oncology Australia, SA; A/Prof Nat Lenzo, Nuclear Physician, Specialist in Internal Medicine, Group Clinical Director, GenesisCare Theranostics and The University of Western Australia, WA; Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Department of Urology, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, and HeadwayHealth Clinical and Consulting Psychology Services, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Western Australia; Graham Rees, Consumer; Kerry Santoro, Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; A/Prof David Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW; Matthew Starr, Consumer. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title. This booklet is funded through the generosity of the people of Australia.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.