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About Prostate Cancer
It is estimated that 1 in 16 South African men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. That means that 4 300 South African men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year with an average of 5 deaths per day.
Prostate cancer starts in a male’s prostate, which is a gland that produces fluid that helps to feed and protect sperm. It is caused by changes in the DNA of a normal prostate cell.
Causes of Prostate Cancer
The exact causes of prostate cancer are unknown but certain risk factors may increase the chances of getting prostate cancer:
● Age: prostate cancer can occur at any age, however, most cases occur in men over 60.
● Family history: Although most prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men without a family history of the disease, the risk doubles for those who have had a father or brother diagnosed with cancer before the age of 60.
● Gene changes: people with inherited mutations of the BRCA1/2 genes can have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. The BRCA genes are linked to an increase in breast and ovarian cancer. Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, commonly known as Lynch syndrome have an increased risk with many cancers including prostate cancer.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer doesn’t often cause symptoms especially in the early stages, however, more advanced states can cause:
● Frequent or slow/weak urination
● Blood in urine/semen
● Pain in the bones especially in the hips, ribs, spine, pelvis or lower back
● Weakness or numbness in feet/legs as well as loss of control over bladder or bowel due to cancer pressing on the spinal cord
Prostate cancer can occur in anyone with a prostate meaning that males, transgender women,
male-assigned non-binary or intersex people can be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Prevention and Screening
As the main risk factors (age, family history, gene mutations) for prostate cancer cannot be changed/influenced, there are no definitive things that can prevent it, however, there are certain lifestyle changes that may reduce the risk.
Eat a balanced diet with lots of vegetables, fruit and whole grains and try to avoid processed meat and foods that are high in sugar.
Being active has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve your immune system which has been linked to preventing cancer.
Obesity is a risk factor associated with many types of cancer including Prostate Cancer.
Smoking and Alcohol
Smoking and alcohol use are associated with many cancer types so avoiding these can help reduce your risk of getting Prostate and other cancers.
There is no single test that is used to diagnose Prostate Cancer, however, a combination of tests can be used to make a diagnosis.
The cells in the prostate make a protein called prostate-specific antigens (PSA). The PSA blood test measures the levels of PSA in blood and is measured in nanograms per millilitre. The higher the PSA level, the higher the chances are of Prostate Cancer, however, there are many contributing factors to a raised level of PSA which means that this is not a definitive test.
Should your PSA levels be high, your doctor may recommend that you go for:
● A second PSA test after a certain time
● A digital rectal exam
● A biopsy
Digital Rectal Exam
As Prostate Cancer usually develops towards the back of the prostates, doctors may perform an exam where they insert a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for bumps or hard areas on the prostate. This exam is less effective than the PSA test but can be used as a supplementary test if the PSA levels are low and your doctor suspects Prostate Cancer.
If screening tests are not normal, a prostate biopsy may be required. Here a small sample of cells is taken from the prostate for testing. This is the only test that can be used to confirm Prostate Cancer and will also help indicate how likely cancer will grow and spread.
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