The prostate is a gland, about the size of a walnut, found in the male reproductive system. It plays an important role because it produces a fluid that helps to protect sperm. The urethra (urine tube) travels through the prostate. The prostate also sits next to the bladder, and close to the rectum and penis.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer forms when cells in the prostate multiply and grow out of control. Usually, cells in our body multiply and later get replaced by other cells. But in cancer, cells grow in an uncontrolled way and form a tumour. Prostate cancer always starts in the prostate gland. It may spread through to nearby organs and tissues, or further to other places in the body. Cancer can travel through blood and the lymphatic system, in a fluid called lymph.
Listen as Prof Nathan Lawrentschuk explains prostate cancer
Symptoms of prostate cancer
Most people with prostate cancer are diagnosed with no symptoms (asymptomatic). Symptoms of prostate cancer are more common after the cancer has spread from the prostate.
Symptoms of locally advanced (Stage 3) prostate cancer include:
- slow stream of urine
- frequent urination (needing to go more often)
- blood in urine or semen.
Often, urinary symptoms are due to conditions that are not cancer, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It is best to take action by speaking with your GP for referral to a urologist. A urologist is a surgeon and specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer and related conditions.
Symptoms of metastatic prostate cancer (Stage 4), where cancer has spread to bone, include:
- back and bone pain
- leg swelling
- weight loss
- fatigue (tiredness)
- signs of neurological issues, including weakness, numbness in legs or feet.
Prostate cancer testing
Testing should start for all men in their 50s, or earlier if you have a family history of prostate cancer. The first step is a PSA blood test – available with your GP or urologist.
Causes and risk factors for prostate cancer
It isn’t fully known what causes prostate cancer. We know there are certain risk factors, or things that make someone more likely to get prostate cancer.
The risk factors include:
- age, if you are over 50
- family history of prostate cancer
- genetics, including genetic mutations or syndromes with known links to prostate cancer (BRCA1, BRCA2, HOXB13 and Lynch syndrome)
- African or Caribbean descent
- diet, although this isn’t fully understood.
Survival rate in Australia
In 2017, more than 20,000 males received a diagnosis of prostate cancer. This makes it the most commonly diagnosed cancer for males in Australia.
The 5-year survival rate is a common measure to assess cancer survival and outcomes. The latest available figures (from 2015 to 2019) tell us that 95.6% of males diagnosed with prostate cancer survived 5 years after diagnosis, after adjusting for general mortality1.
This has greatly improved since 1990 to 1992, where on average, 65.9% of males diagnosed with prostate cancer survived 5 years after diagnosis.
1. Cancer survival data visualisation, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-data-in-australia/contents/survival, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 27 September 2023