One of the most common cancers in men is prostate cancer.
My uncle recently complained about frequent trips to the toilet to urinate. We tried to convince him to go for a check-up, but he refused. Finally, my aunt forced him to go. Unfortunately, the doctor diagnosed him with prostate cancer. We are very worried. What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer occurs only in men. This is because only men have a gland called the prostate gland. It is one of the most common cancers in men.
Prostate cancer is usually a very slow growing tumour. Most men who have prostate cancer live a natural lifespan and need minimal or even no treatment.
But this is not always the case. Some types of prostate cancer are very aggressive and spread to the bones and other organs very quickly.
What is the prostate gland and what does it do?
The prostate gland is a small walnut-shaped gland which produces seminal fluid. It is part of the male reproductive system. Seminal fluid is the fluid in which sperm is bathed in.
The word “prostate” in Greek means “one standing in front”, and the term is used to describe the gland as it is set at the base of the urinary bladder.
The prostate gland is an exocrine gland, which means its secretions end up outside the body, as opposed to endocrine glands, where hormones or secretions end up inside the body.
When a man has an orgasm, the muscular contractions in the groin area force the prostate to secrete its fluid.
The prostate secretes seminal fluid into the urethra, which is the tube that connects the bladder and carries urine and semen outside the body through the penis.
The prostate contains thousands of tiny glands. They produce a fluid which forms part of semen, along with spermatozoa which is produced by the testes and the milky fluid produced by the seminal vesicles.
This prostatic fluid nourishes and protects the sperm.
Seminal fluid contains a protein called PSA (prostate specific antigen) which helps keep semen in its fluid state. This PSA can leak into the bloodstream, so its level can be measured through a blood test.
I have heard about PSA. I have seen it show up in my medical report before. It is indicative of prostate cancer, right?
Not exactly. Many other conditions of the prostate gland can affect PSA levels in your blood, such as certain medications or indeed any condition which affects the prostate gland, such as infections.
Tell me about prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer usually starts in the glands, which is why most of prostate cancer is of the adenocarcinoma (glandular) type. It is usually a slow-growing cancer which can even go undetected.
In fact, many men die of old age without ever knowing they had prostate cancer. A study has shown that 80% of all men in their 80s had prostate cancer when they died, and they never knew it.
Prostate cancer first starts in the prostate gland cells with tiny alterations in their shape and size.
This is called PIN (prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia). Up to 50% of all men who are aged 50 years old have PIN!
PIN can be divided into low-grade, which is more or less normal, and high-grade, which has a greater risk of developing into full-blown prostate cancer.
How will I know I have this PIN? It sounds scary.
There is no alternative but to take a biopsy from the prostate gland. Then the biopsy specimen is examined under the microscope and assigned the Gleason score to grade it.
The Gleason score grades prostate changes from 2 to 10.
Does prostate cancer have any symptoms?
Most of the time, you will have no symptoms. It is usually a disease found during a medical check-up.
But when symptoms do present, look out for:
> More frequent urination
> Getting up at night to urinate more often
> Difficulty in starting to urinate
> Blood in the urine
> Painful urination
> Cannot achieve or maintain an erection, or finding it more difficult
When prostate cancer spreads, there may be bone pain due to the metastatic lesions. So depending on where the lesion is, the pain will be in that area.
What causes prostate cancer and how can I avoid it?
No one really knows what causes it. But it mostly happens in old age (over 50). The older you get, the more likely you will get it. But studies have said there is definitely a genetic connection.
Research suggests that a Mediterranean diet can help reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
> Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail email@example.com. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any loss, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.