The Movember Foundation has done heaps to boost awareness of men’s health issues, bringing attention to potentially serious conditions, like prostate and testicular cancer, and encouraging more men to visit the doctor if they have concerns.
According to research, men have a tendency to visit their doctors less than women. Aside from the usual excuses, a fear of embarrassment is often a factor, especially with issues such as prostate health.
But although it may seem trivial, where prostate cancer is concerned, putting off seeing your GP could pose a serious risk to your health. The facts tell us why.
Prostate cancer in the UK
Prostate cancer has become the most common cancer affecting men in the UK.
‘About 330,000 men in the UK are living with prostate cancer, 42,000 are diagnosed with the disease each year and over 10,000 die because of it every year,’ explains Suresh Rambaran, Specialist Nurse at the charity Prostate Cancer UK.
Unusual symptoms that might signify something is wrong include needing to go to the toilet often, especially at night, difficulty passing urine and having a weak flow. You may also find you take longer to finish, or feel your bladder isn’t quite empty.
‘If you have these symptoms it’s important to go to your GP and get yourself checked,’ says Suresh Rambaran.
‘They don’t necessarily mean you have cancer. The condition Benign Prostate Enlargement (BPE) is more common and causes the same symptoms. A bladder condition, kidney problems and even diabetes can cause some of the same symptoms.’
Screening for prostate cancer
There’s no national screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK. However, thanks in part to Movember, which has been running in the UK since 2003, more men have become aware of the dangers of prostate cancer and are choosing to be screened.
More funds are being invested into research too. Between 2012 and 2015, the Movember Foundation put a massive £21m into Prostate Cancer UK’s research.
One prostate cancer test involves your GP examining your prostate gland. It’s under the bladder and accessed via your rectum, so this is the part some men find embarrassing. The good news is that it doesn’t hurt.
‘A rectal examination, from my own experience, isn’t painful,’ explains Suresh Rambaran, who has had the test himself. ‘We often have men calling us asking about this test. It might be slightly embarrassing, but doctors do this all the time, and it could save your life.’
There are other tests too, including a urine test, to find out if you have any infections. Your doctor will also carry out a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test on a sample of your blood.
PSA is a protein released by your prostate. PSA levels rise with age and if there is something wrong with your prostate. However, raised levels don’t mean you have cancer – in fact, according to the NHS, two out of three men who have raised PSA levels don’t have cancer.
When to be screened?
If you’re worried about any urinary symptoms, then don’t put off seeing your doctor.
‘According to NHS Guidelines – The Prostate Risk Management Programme – any man in the UK aged 50 and over can request a prostate check at their GP’s surgery, even if you don’t have any symptoms,’ explains Suresh.
If you could be at a higher risk of prostate cancer, you should have a check-up, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
‘If your father, uncle or brother has had it, you are two and a half times more likely to develop the disease, so you can ask for a prostate check in your 40s,’ advises Suresh.
Plus the risk is higher for Black African or African Caribbean's too. ‘One in four black men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lifetime, compared to one in eight men overall in the UK.’
Your GP will talk you through the tests, including the pros and cons of the PSA test, and the fact that it isn’t 100 per cent accurate.
‘Not many men in their 40s develop prostate cancer, but the risk increases with age ‒ the older you get, the higher your risk.’
The number of men with prostate cancer is increasing, partly due to our ageing population, but also probably due to greater numbers of men having their prostate checked.
Add to their numbers. Make an appointment with your GP this November – don’t run the risk of dying of embarrassment.
• If you’d like more information, see our prostate cancer fact sheet.
• If you need one-to-one support, why not speak to one of our Dedicated Cancer Nurses?
• Visit our Cancer Centre for general cancer information
We spoke to male cancer survivors – Ben, Jonny and Greg -- to hear their stories and find out what they would want to share with the young man who has just been diagnosed with cancer. You won’t want to miss these candid interviews.