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Need to know: prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the UK, affecting one in eight males.

Sometimes prostate cancer is slow growing and merely needs regular monitoring. In other cases, it is more aggressive, spreading outside the prostate gland fairly rapidly. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential.

Bob Andrews, chief executive of Benenden Health, says his prostate cancer diagnosis was a complete surprise. “I had been experiencing some pain in my coccyx and went to Benenden Hospital for an MRI,” he says. “It showed a shadow on my prostate and I then had another MRI scan specifically on the prostate.”

Each year, 11,000 men die from prostate cancer in the UK. Men over 50 are more at risk, as are those with a family history of prostate or breast cancer. Men of Afro-Caribbean origin are twice as likely to get prostate cancer than the general population.

The prostate gland is wrapped around the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) and positioned just under the bladder. It secretes prostate fluid – one of the components of semen – and its muscles help propel semen during ejaculation.

What are the symptoms?

  • Some men will have no symptoms that the cancer is developing. Others might have urinary problems such as a more frequent need to go, trouble starting the flow, pain while urinating or blood in the urine.

  • Others might find it difficult to get an erection or experience pain on ejaculation. Some might develop pains in their back or hips.

  • For those who go to the GP with symptoms, tests usually include a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test and a DRE (digital rectal examination), which involves the doctor examining the prostate by inserting a gloved finger into the rectum.

  • Depending on the results of these, the GP might make a referral for further tests such as an MRI, an ultrasound or a biopsy.

Treatment options

The sooner prostate cancer is detected the more treatment options are available for patients on the NHS*.

Many cancers might need no more than monitoring. For those that do need treatment, options include:

  • Radiotherapy

  • HIFU (high-intensity focused ultrasound)

  • cryotherapy, which freezes the affected cells

  • hormone treatments

  • surgery to remove the gland, either partially or completely.

Bob Andrews decided to have the whole prostate gland removed via keyhole surgery. This successfully removed the entire cancer. “I was off work for two months,” he says. “My advice is: don’t ignore symptoms. Get them sorted. If you’re lucky, cancer doesn’t have to change your life. Now I’m looking forward.”

For more information about prostate cancer, please visit Prostate Cancer UK.

Members of Benenden Health are also able to use the 24/7 GP advice line, allowing them to speak to a doctor about any health concerns they may have.

*Because the NHS provides good care for cancer, cancer treatment is not included in Benenden Health membership. We may, however, able to assist with prompt diagnosis of any condition following a GP referral.