Detection of prostate cancer

What is prostate cancer

Prostate cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop in the prostate gland, which is a walnut-sized gland located between the bladder and the penis and which secretes fluid that nourishes and protects sperm. The abnormal cells that develop in the prostate can continue to multiply in an uncontrolled way and sometimes spread outside the prostate into nearby or distant parts of the body. 

Prostate cancer is generally slow-growing and the majority of men with low grade prostate cancer live for many years without symptoms and without it spreading and becoming life-threatening. However, high grade disease spreads quickly and can be lethal. Appropriate management is key.

Testing for prostate cancer

Early detection and improvements in therapy have resulted in a dramatic decrease in prostate cancer deaths since the early 1990s.

There are no tests available with sufficient accuracy to screen populations of men for early signs of prostate cancer. However, you can ask your doctor to arrange for periodic checks of your PSA (prostate specific antigen), particularly if you have a family history of prostate, breast or ovarian cancer or if you are over 50 years of age.  These tests can be done with other blood tests you may be having.  They provide an indication only of possible changes in your prostate.  A high PSA reading does not necessarily indicate that you have prostate cancer.  

The PCFA, In partnership with Cancer Council Australia and a multi-disciplinary expert advisory panel comprising urologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, general practitioners, medical oncologists, epidemiologists, allied health professionals and consumers, has developed national evidence-based clinical practice guidelines on PSA testing and early management of test-detected prostate cancer. Read more.

You should speak to your doctor if you are concerned about your prostate health and when it would be appropriate for you to have checks of your prostate.

Symptoms of prostate cancer

Many men with prostate cancer do not have any symptoms of the disease. Where there are symptoms, these can include:

  • frequent urination, particularly at night
  • pain on urination
  • blood in the urine or semen
  • a weak stream
  • pain in the back or pelvis.

You can read more about the symptoms of prostate cancer HERE.

Risk factors

Factors that are known to result in a higher risk of a man getting prostate cancer incude:

  • age—the older you are, the greater the risk that you will get prostate cancer, especially after the age of 50 years. For this reason, men at average risk of prostate cancer who decide to undergo regular testing should be offered PSA testing every 2 years from age 50 to 69;
  • family history of prostate cancer. If a man has a first-degree relative—meaning a father, brother, or son—with prostate cancer, his risk of developing prostate cancer is 2 to 3 times higher than the average risk. The incidence of breast or ovarian cancer on the maternal side of one’s family is also a family history risk factor. Men with a family history of prostate cancer who decide to be tested should be offered PSA testing every 2 years from age 40/45 to 69, with the starting age depending on the strength of their family history; and
  • poor diet and lifestyle are also known to play a part.

You can read more about risk factors HERE.