Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer begins when abnormal cells in the prostate start growing in an uncontrolled way. In most cases, prostate cancer grows more slowly than other types of cancer. This might mean that you do not need treatment straightaway. However, some prostate cancers can grow and spread quickly, so it is important to investigate any symptoms or unusual test results promptly.

Early (or localised) prostate cancer means cancer cells have grown but, as far as it is possible to tell, have not spread beyond the prostate.

There are two stages of advanced prostate cancer. If the cancer grows and spreads outside the prostate gland into the seminal vesicles (glands that lie close to the prostate) or nearby parts of the body, such as the bladder or rectum, it is called locally advanced prostate cancer. Metastatic prostate cancer is when the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the lymph glands or bones.

Learn more about:


The prostate

The prostate is a small gland about the size of a walnut. It is found only in men and forms part of the male reproductive system. It sits below the bladder, near 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.

Prostate fluid – The prostate produces fluid that helps to feed and protect sperm. This prostate 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 sit on the prostate gland.

Urethra – The urethra is a thin tube that runs through the prostate. It carries urine from the bladder and out through the penis. The urethra also carries semen during orgasm.

Ejaculation – When a man has an orgasm and ejaculates, millions of sperm from the testicles move through 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.

Prostate growth – The male sex hormone, testosterone, is made by the testicles and controls the growth of the prostate. It is normal for the prostate to become larger as men get older. Sometimes this can cause problems, especially with urination.

The prostate

The-prostate-diagram


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.


What causes prostate cancer?

While the causes of prostate cancer are unknown, your risk of developing prostate cancer increases:

  • as you get older – prostate cancer is most commonly diagnosed in men aged 60–79
  • if your father or brother has had prostate cancer – your risk will be twice that of other men
  • if you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, particularly BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

While prostate cancer is less common in men under 50, men aged 40–55 are at particular risk of developing significant 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 men in the same age range.

Family history

You may have an inherited gene that increases your risk of prostate cancer if you have:

  • multiple relatives on the same side of the family (either your mother’s or father’s side) with prostate, breast and/or ovarian cancers
  • a brother or father diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 60.

Your general practitioner (GP) can advise you on the suitability of PSA testing for you and your family. For more information, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Screening tests help to detect cancer in people who do not have any symptoms. Unlike for bowel, breast and cervical cancers, there is no national screening program for prostate cancer. There remains debate regarding the pros and cons of PSA screening and whether there is an overall benefit. Some men without any symptoms of prostate cancer do choose to have regular PSA testing to screen for the disease. Before having a PSA test, it is important to talk to your GP about the advantages and disadvantages in your particular circumstances.

This information was last reviewed in March 2018
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