In Australia, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, and affects one in seven men. While any cancer diagnosis can be extremely distressing, prostate cancer is often treatable and even curable. Prostate cancer has one of the highest survival rates of all cancers if detected early. With highly effective treatments available, men who have been diagnosed have several treatment options.
As with all cancers, early detection is key. Unfortunately, a large number of men live with cancer for many years with few or no symptoms. There are a number of factors that may increase your chances of getting prostate cancer, including family history, age and diet.
As prostate cancer can cause few symptoms, it’s important to see your GP for regular check-ups. This will usually involve getting a blood test and/or a physical examination. The blood test will measure the PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) levels in your body. Depending on the results you may need further tests to get a diagnosis.
For men with prostate cancer, there are a number of treatment pathways to choose from, which will vary for each individual case and depend of the stage and behaviour of the cancer. Patient preference is an important factor when deciding on the right treatment. The common options include surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or a combination of these. All treatments come with different side effects, pros and cons.
Surgery to remove the prostate is an effective way to treat early stage prostate cancer. Possible side effects could include problems getting erections and urine leaking. Radiation therapy is also an effective way to treat prostate cancer. It often involves daily treatments over a period of several weeks, and can often cure prostate cancer. It is a non-invasive treatment that delivers precise, targeted radiation to the cancer in the prostate and surrounding area. Side effects can include fatigue and difficulty passing urine, however there is less chance of urine leaking than with surgery. Radiation therapy can affect erections, but this side-effect is usually years later. Radiation treatment is also effective in targeting any cancer that has spread beyond the prostate. I encourage men to ask their doctor for a referral to a radiation oncologist, as well as a urologist, if they have any questions about prostate cancer treatment.
Side effects of prostate cancer treatment are often temporary and improve over time. There are also a number of ways your doctor will be able to address temporary side effects. Men should seek all the information available to them and should feel comfortable asking for a second opinion if they are unsure, or would like reassurance.
The take home message is – don’t bury your head in the sand. Make sure you get regular health checks and don’t be afraid to ask questions about your options.