“Prostate check” – two words that can be a cause of concern for men as they anticipate this process.
But here’s something to consider…
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian men (after non-melanoma skin cancer).
In Australia, there are approximately 17,000 new prostate cancer diagnoses each year, mostly in men aged 50 and over.
When you mention a prostate check to men their mind will often go straight to the digital rectal examination (DRE) but health professionals no longer recommend this as a routine test for men who don’t have symptoms.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is cancer of the prostate; a small walnut-shaped gland in men.
This is the gland that produces the seminal fluid that transports sperm.
Although some prostate cancers are slow growing and don’t cause serious harm, this isn’t always the case.
Identifying this cancer as early as possible is integral to a positive outcome.
What are the symptoms you need to look out for?
In its early stages, prostate cancer may not show any symptoms. That’s why it’s so important if you have a family history of prostate cancer to speak to your GP about when to start getting regular check-ups.
Early signs to look out for might be a difficulty in passing urine, a slow or interrupted flow of urine, frequent passing of urine and even incontinence, and waking up several times in the night to pass urine.
Advanced prostate cancer symptoms can include blood in urine, pain during urination or lower back or pelvic pain.
If you have any of these symptoms, don’t delay, make an appointment with your GP.
You may be wondering how do we detect prostate cancer and what do the checks involve?
The two most common tests are the prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test and the digital rectal examination (DRE).
The PSA test does exactly that, it is a simple blood test that measures the level of PSA in your blood. The normal range of PSA depends on your age so a level above the typical range may indicate the possibility of prostate cancer. It’s important to remember though that a raised PSA level could be due to many other conditions too so it’s important to follow your GP’s advice for the next steps.
A DRE can be conducted by your general practitioner if you request it or if you have any suggestive symptoms. It is no longer recommended as a routine test unless you have any lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). It may be used to check for any changes in the prostate before doing a biopsy.
During a Digital Rectal Examination, your health care provider will insert a finger into the rectum and feel the prostate for size and consistency, and to feel any hard, lumpy, or abnormal areas. This procedure can be slightly uncomfortable but should not cause pain or damage. It sounds more daunting than it is and doctors have been conducting these tests for as long as they can remember. It’s nothing to be embarrassed or concerned about.
If either of these tests indicate any abnormality, you may be encouraged to have other tests to confirm a diagnosis.
This is usually in the form of an MRI scan and biopsy.
If you are under 50 or over 50 and with no symptoms or family history of prostate cancer, but have concerns, speaking to your GP can enable you to be in control of your fears.
Being educated, supported and guided in the next steps of your health journey are our priority.
Make your own decision about whether to be tested after a discussion with your GP; we’re here to ensure you have up to date information to make an informed decision.
It is unlikely that someone without medical experience could accurately feel for abnormalities or problems so talking to your GP is the best first step.
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