Monday, 27 August 2012

Through the keyhole... and into your prostate!

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in this country. There are around 30,000 new cases per year in the UK and the number is gradually rising. 

Few men are aware of the worrying statistics surrounding prostate cancer and even fewer are aware just how treatable the disease is.

Christopher Eden, the UK’s most experienced laparoscopic (keyhole) urologist spends his life operating on men with the disease as well as explaining just how important it is for men to get themselves checked out.

Early diagnosis is key
According to Mr Eden, prostate cancer normally affects men later in life. “It’s really a disease of ageing men; it peaks usually in the mid-60s,” he says. “What is very interesting is that we’re finding younger and younger patients with it. Last year we had three men in their 30s and over a hundred in their 40s. It’s becoming a much commoner disease.”

Despite the dangers, many men are embarrassed about talking to their GPs or are afraid of getting bad news. But early detection is paramount when it comes to prostate cancer. According to Mr Eden, one man per hour dies from prostate cancer in the UK, having overtaken lung cancer in men around a decade ago.

He explains: “The disease has the potential to shorten life, but it has a very long lead time and can be cured in most men. It’s a slow-growing cancer. If it’s removed by a high-volume surgeon there is usually very good post-operative bladder and sexual function.”

What causes it?
The causes of prostate cancer vary, but there are two major contributors: lifestyle and genetics.

Saturated fats, for example those found in red meats and dairy products, and a deficiency of antioxidants derived from fresh fruit and vegetables can increase the risk dramatically.

Mr Eden’s advice is simple. “Approximately 40% of prostate cancers are genetic. If there is a family history, people should reduce the risk by altering their lifestyle and diet,” he says.

“They should increase their fruit and vegetable intake and also get some exercise as obesity is an independent risk factor for developing prostate cancer. It’s important people know that. From the age of 40, men should be checked on an annual basis, especially if there is a family history, as the risk is two to three times as high.”

Early diagnosis is vital
Although more and more men are concerned about getting prostate cancer, few know how to find out whether they have it. The first step would be to get a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test, which is a cheap and readily-available test and checks for blood bladder abnormalities. Although a biopsy is needed to test for the cancer itself, the PSA test is used as a relatively broad measure to flag up patients that could be at risk.

And those waiting to see symptoms before they head to the doctor’s should think again.

“Typically, men don’t have any symptoms. We need to identify it before they have symptoms or a lot of the time it’s too late," says Mr Eden. "Often men with urinary symptoms have benign enlargement of the prostate. They might have a weak flow or need to go to the loo in a hurry.

"These are often signs of a benign condition, but they should see their GP as prostate cancer can co-exist. They should get the PSA test, but it’s the prostate biopsy that detects cancer.”

While cancer is obviously a very serious illness, prostate cancer is one of the most treatable kinds. “The lifetime risk of having prostate cancer is 30%,” Mr Eden claims. “Having it as a clinical disease is 10% and the risk of dying is 3%. This is largely because a lot of men are diagnosed at a stage when it is curable. It’s much better if it’s picked up at an early stage.”

To find out more about prostate cancer, the diagnosis and the treatment, is to visit

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

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