Prostate Cancer and the PSA test

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with more than 41,200 men diagnosed with it each year according to 2018 cancer statistics. This is somewhat surprising as only half of the population, men, can get it.

Approximately 1 in 9 men will develop the condition, which tends to affect men as they get older but can be present at any age. Older men, those with a family history of prostate cancer and black men are more at risk of developing it. The most common age to be diagnosed is between 65- 69, but for anyone under 50 the risk is very low.

Whilst the following could be signs of prostate cancer, it is worth pointing out that even if there is a problem with your prostate, this does not automatically mean that you have prostate cancer, it could be signs of an enlarged prostate or prostatitis (inflammation or swelling of the prostate). Some men will have no symptoms at all, particularly in the early stages.

Things to look out for are:

  • Difficulty or delay in passing urine
  • A weaker or slower stream of urine
  • Urgently needing to pass urine
  • Passing urine more frequently than usual, especially at night
  • A feeling that the bladder is not completely empty
  • Pain in the region of the prostate
  • Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection, or pain during ejaculation
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain in the back, hips and/or shoulders

You should speak to your GP if you have any one of these for longer than two weeks or if you have any two of these symptoms at the same time.

If your GP thinks that further investigation is required then they may ask you to do a PSA test, which stands for Prostate Specific Antigen, and is a blood test. PSA is a protein produced by normal cells in the prostate and also by prostate cancer cells. It is normal for all men to have a small amount of PSA in their blood, but a raised PSA level may show that you have a problem with your prostate, and possibly prostate cancer.

All men aged over 50 are entitled to have a PSA test and this can take place at your GP surgery. Anyone over 45 and at a higher risk of prostate cancer, black men or anyone with a family history of prostate cancer, can also talk to their GP about getting a PSA test.

Having a PSA test can be very reassuring if the results are normal and, importantly, can help find some cancers at an early stage. Some people diagnosed with prostate cancer report not having any symptoms at all, and it is only through this routine screening that they were able to be diagnosed and treated.

If there is any cause for concern in the results of the PSA test it doesn’t mean that you have prostate cancer. The GP should then perform a digital rectal examination (DRE) and consider:

  • Your PSA level,
  • The results of the DRE,
  • Your age,
  • Your ethnicity,
  • Your family history and any genetic factors,
  • Your body weight,
  • Any other health problems or anything that may affect your PSA,
  • Whether you’ve had test(s) for prostate cancer before.

If the GP is still concerned, they will either conduct another PSA test at a later date to see if your levels increase or refer you to a specialist urologist or specialist nurse, who may recommend further tests, such as an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan or a prostate biopsy.

If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may have further scans to show whether it has spread outside the prostate. These could include a further MRI, a CT (Computerised Tomography) or a bone scan and could help inform treatment options. Some treatments can cause side-effects, such as urinary, erection or bowel problems, but there are usually other treatments available to help manage these.

The Mulberry Centre can help when you are diagnosed with any type of cancer. We can also help at any stage of your cancer journey. We offer emotional support, counselling, complementary therapies, workshops on a variety of relevant topics as well as more social activities.

If you want to speak to us about your diagnosis or that of someone for whom you are close to or caring for, or you would like to hear more about cancer, early diagnosis and treatment you can call us on 020 8321 6300 or email us on talk@themulberrycentre.co.uk and someone will call you back.

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