Some of you may have read this during Men’s Health Week last year but I do believe that it is a post worth repeating so that there is an awareness to act sooner rather than later if there is even the slightest change in the way our body behaves.
My father was diagnosed at age 77 with prostate cancer and it was at least stage three. This was twenty-five years ago and the treatment is radiation and lots of it. It gave him time but the last year was very hard on him. The radiation had caused a blood disorder that required him to have a regular blood-transfusions and good naturedly he would present himself at the hospital on the designated Friday.. My father loved his food and the day is significant… they served fish ‘n’ chips. Eventually he required these transfusions weekly and after a short period of time he passed away aged 80.
Today there have been huge advancements in the detection and treatment of prostate cancer and the prognosis is much improved. But it is dependent on a very important factor and that is early detection.
I explored some very frightening figures after an image was posted on facebook from Just Eat Real Food that claimed that from 1900 the risk of developing cancer had increased dramatically from 1 in 30 to 1 in 2. Many people thought that this could not be true. Well it appears that it well might be.
In the UK, Cancer Research UK states that for those born after 1960 there is a 1 in 2 chance of developing a cancer of one type or another… This will be reflected in other countries who have adopted a highly industrialised food chain which includes mass farming methods and chemical and hormonal ‘enhancements’ at each phase of the production process.
We all have rogue cells that are pre-cancerous but if we have a strong immune system these cells either self-distruct or are contained by our own defences.
However, if those defences are weakened by a nutritionally deficient diet, those actions will not occur and in a sugar rich and oxygen deprived environment, cancer cells will reproduce rapidly.
We are now living longer and as we age so do our cells. As our diet and lifestyle changes in later years, our immune system weakens and the defences are down. It is therefore absolutely possible that 1 in 2 of us will develop some form of cancer in our lifetime. The difference being that cancers that develop in our bodies in our 80s and 90s are likely to grow slowly and outlive us.
Male reproductive health issues
As women face problems with their uterus, and possible hysterectomies, so men are faced with problems with their prostates. The good news is that in the majority of cases the conditions are benign, and are not going to lead to cancer, but symptoms should always be checked out.
What is the prostate?
The prostate gland is a very small walnut shaped structure that sits at the base of the bladder and surrounds the ejaculatory ducts at the base of the urethra. Its role is to produce an alkaline fluid that mixes with the semen from the vesicles before it is passed into the penis to be ejaculated. This probably acts as a booster for the sperm keeping them active and therefore more likely to fertilise an egg should the opportunity arise.
In a young man the prostate is about the size of a walnut and it slowly gets larger as a man matures. If it gets too large, however, it can begin to cause problems with the urinary tract resulting in frequent urination and in some cases discomfort. This is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and is very common in men over 60 years old.
If problems with urination occur especially at night then a doctor should be consulted. Usually a rectal examination or scans will detect the enlarged prostate and appropriate treatment prescribed. If the enlargement of the prostate and the urination problems are relatively mild then it is usually left for a period of time to see if the normal reduction in testosterone will result in a decrease in the size of the prostate.
If the enlargement of the prostate or the symptoms warrant medical intervention it is usual to prescribe either alpha-blockers (can have some nasty side effects) or a testosterone lowering drug. As the testosterone levels decrease the prostate shrinks and the urination problems are solved. However there can be side effects such as loss of sex drive and possible erectile problems.
In extreme cases surgery may be advised if the urination problem does not improve. It can however result in other problems and should be considered carefully beforehand.
Women dread the words breast, ovary or uterine cancer and for men it is prostate cancer. As with most cancers if it is found early then the chances of recovery are very good. Unfortunately the early signs of cancer can be confused with BPH which is why it is an excellent idea to consult a doctor the moment you feel there is a change to your urination in any way. This is especially true if you develop a burning sensation or pain during urination or there is blood present in the urine. Sometimes there could also be blood in semen, pain in the back, hips or pelvis and painful ejaculation. There can also be an innocent and harmless cause of some of these symptoms but it is important to clarify the situation immediately with your doctor.
Apart from a physical examination a doctor will also conduct a blood test to determine the levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). These may be higher in men with either an enlarged prostate or cancer and it is backed up by an ultrasound to establish any abnormalities in the gland.
Usually a biopsy is necessary to confirm the diagnosis and is commonly done by the doctor under local anaesthetic.
These days if the cancer is in the early stages and slow growing it will be monitored regularly to determine if the next stage in the treatment is necessary. Treatments are being refined and reviewed continually and your doctor will have the latest information at hand.
The most common type of surgery is a radical prostatectomy where the whole prostate and some surrounding tissue is removed. This may result in loss of sexual function or urinary problems that may not correct themselves. There is a modified operation that reduces the risk of nerve damage and therefore impotence that some men will be offered if appropriate.
Radiation treatment is used in some cases prior to surgery to kill cancerous cells and shrink the tumour and following surgery to ensure that all harmful cells have been eliminated. There are two kinds of radiation, externally beamed into the prostate and internally where radioactive “seeds” are placed in the prostate itself, into or near the actual tumour. There can be some side effects with this treatment including impotence and incontinence, which will have to be managed in the long term.
Following radiation, patients may be offered hormonal treatment to prevent the cancer from reoccurring or if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This will usually result in menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes as well as a loss of sexual desire.
Now to a different perspective on prostate cancer treatment.
This in no way negates the need to get checked, as a physical examination is key to determining if there is a problem with the prostate. Whilst unpleasant (and trust me we women have equally invasive examinations) a few minutes of embarrassment or discomfort is better than years of treatment and doubt about the outcome.
Today treatments are targeted very specifically in the area affected and as you will read a different approach to beginning treatment is usually followed if the cancer is in the very early stages. A ‘watch carefully and wait and see’ strategy is particularly relevant if the patient is in their late 70s and 80s as certain cancers have a less aggressive growth pattern as we age.
Do read the article so that should you face a diagnosis of prostate cancer you can ask all the right questions to ensure that you explore all the options available. Be aware that different consultants have their own approach to specific cancers and whilst the ‘wait and see’ strategy is widely adopted in the UK it may be very different where you live.
This series is not intended to be used as a diagnostic tool..It is however a recommendation to find out about areas of the body which are at risk and to ensure that you notice changes that occur.. Nobody else can do that except perhaps someone close to you. This is why it is so important for partners to also keep an eye out for changes in habits that might indicate that there is a problem.
The sooner that prostate cancer is diagnosed the better the outcome. Get Checked.
You will find other posts in the A – Z of Common Conditions in the directory.