The prostate is a gland about the size of a walnut. It sits below the bladder and is partially wrapped around the urethra, the tube which allows urine to pass from the bladder to the penis. Its main role is to produce prostatic fluid – one of the components of semen.

A Common Killer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in males and the second greatest killer of men behind lung cancer. It is a very slow growing cancer and in it’s early stages generally doesn’t cause any symptoms. This lack of symptoms makes early detection of prostate cancer difficult and contributes to the high incidence of the disease.


When symptoms do begin to manifest they can include:

  • Frequent urination.
  • Straining to begin urination.
  • Leaking and dribbling.
  • A weak urine stream.
  • An inability to completely empty the bladder.
  • Chronic pain in the hips, lower back and thighs.
  • Blood in the semen or urine.
  • Pain during urination or ejaculation.
  • Erectile dysfunction.


The key to surviving prostate cancer is early detection. Given the previously-mentioned lack of early-stage symptoms, this means regular check ups. Many doctors recommend yearly checks after age 40.

The Digital Rectal Exam

The most famous (or infamous) method of detecting prostate cancer is the digital rectal exam, or DRE. The name speaks for itself, but if you’re still in doubt – it involves your bottom and the doctor’s finger.

Other Methods of Detection

The PSA blood test. The prostate specific antigen test measures the level of a specific protein in your blood. Higher than normal levels of this protein may indicate the presence of prostate cancer. It should be noted, though, that only around one in three positive PSA tests actually signals a case of cancer.

Imaging. Ultrasound, MRI and CT scans can all be used to investigate the prostate.

Biopsy. Often indicated when DRE or PSA results are positive, a biopsy of small pieces of prostate tissue is used to confirm a diagnosis of prostate cancer. This biopsy is performed using ultrasound guidance and is a simple, outpatient procedure.


Approaches to treating prostate cancer include:

  • Radiation therapy. The prostate is either bombarded with high power x-rays or implanted with radioactive “seeds”.
  • Hormone therapy. As the male sex hormone, testosterone, stimulates cancer cell growth, drugs which block the production of testosterone may help slow the progression of prostate cancer. In this respect, hormone therapy is a treatment, but not a cure.
  • Surgical removal. The prostate can be removed completely through surgery.
  • Cryosurgery. A newer technique that aims to destroy prostate cancer by freezing the prostate gland.

Needless to say, all the treatments listed above involve side-effects.

Risk Factors

If a close male blood relative (father, brother etc.) has had the disease, the chance of you developing it is doubled.

If you are an African American, your chances of developing prostate cancer are twice as high as those of Caucasian men.

If you eat a diet high in fat and red meat and low in fibre you increase your chances of developing the cancer.


Basically, following a healthy lifestyle that includes regular check-ups is the best way to keep your prostate healthy.

  • Avoid too much fat and read meat. Fibre, soy protein, fruit and cooked tomatoes and tomato products (providing the antioxidant lycopene) have all been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine as much as possible.
  • Ejaculate often (aids in emptying the prostate).
  • Maintain a healthy weight – obesity has been linked to prostate cancer.
  • Give up smoking.
  • Drink plenty of water to flush the bladder.

Don’t Ignore It

None of us wants to undergo a rectal examination, but the single most important factor in surviving prostate cancer is to catch it early. Having a finger stuck up your bottom will seem an insignificant thing if you are unlucky enough to look back on it from a bed in the terminal cancer ward.

If you’re prepared to undergo five minutes embarrassment, surviving or even avoiding prostate cancer may simply require you to follow three basic rules: Get checked…live healthy…and have plenty of sex.

Learn more about prostate cancer in this video.

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