Prostate cancer

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

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.


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.


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.

The prostate


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 tests

Cancer 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.

For an overview of what to expect during all stages of your cancer care, visit Cancer Pathways – Prostate Cancer. This is a short guide to what is recommended, from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on prostate cancer

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

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To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

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EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

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This information was last reviewed in April 2020
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