What is the prostate?
Only men have a prostate. The prostate gland is the size of a walnut. It is found inside the body, in front of the rectum (bottom) and just below the bladder.
What does the prostate do?
It produces semen.
Ministry of Health view on prostate cancer testing
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men. Finding it early can save lives but not all prostate cancer needs to be treated. Learn as much as you can about prostate cancer, testing and treatment to decide what approach is right for you.
Signs and symptoms of prostate problems.
Prostate problems are common as men get older, in particular:
- peeing more often
- a poor urine flow when peeing
- trouble starting or stopping pee
- getting up often during the night to pee.
These are usually due to prostate enlargement that is NOT cancer.
It is also possible that such symptoms may be due to cancer and therefore it’s important to get them checked by your doctor.
Knowing the risk factors for prostate cancer can help with your decision to get checked.
Age. The chances of getting prostate cancer increases with age but is very uncommon under the age of 50. Most prostate cancers are found in men age 65 or older.
Family history. There is a greater risk if a close family member, a father or brother had prostate cancer.
Deciding what to do
Deciding whether or not to get your prostate checked is a very personal decision. Prostate cancer is common and finding it early can save lives but not all prostate cancer needs to be treated.
Below are some ideas that may help you work out what decision is right for you.
- Talk with your friends, family/whanau and doctor (see 'Talking with your doctor' and 'Questions to ask your doctor' sections below).
- Find out about the known side effects of testing and treatment: Many prostate cancers may benefit from treatment that could be lifesaving. However, some prostate cancers may never cause any problems and going ahead with treatment can have serious side effects (see 'Impact of prostate cancer testing and treatment' section below).
Deciding to get checked
If you decide to get checked, initial tests would include a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and you may have a digital rectal exam (DRE).
A PSA blood test measures the level of PSA in your blood. The prostate gland makes PSA. Higher than normal levels of PSA can be caused by: an infection of the prostate gland; an enlarged prostate (not cancer) or by prostate cancer.
A DRE is when the doctor feels the prostate (using a gloved lubricated finger) through the wall of the rectum (bottom). They feel for any lumps or hard areas on the prostate.
If there is an indication of any abnormality in either of these tests you would be referred to a urologist for a biopsy. This involves taking samples of the prostate tissue that are then examined in a laboratory to ascertain whether there is any cancer in your prostate gland
Deciding to do nothing
You choose what is right for you. Fully explore the benefits and risks of prostate cancer testing. Consider your age and any family/whānau history of prostate cancer and discuss it with your doctor. Remember, it is OK to choose not to be tested.
Can prostate cancer be treated?
Yes. Finding prostate cancer early and getting treatment can save lives, but not all prostate cancers need to be treated.
Impact of prostate cancer testing and treatment
Prostate cancer, testing and treatments can affect your quality of life and, your spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well-being in many ways. There are also likely to be impacts upon your family/whānau.
Tests and waiting for results can cause extreme worry for some. Some tests such as biopsy are invasive. There is a risk of:
- blood in your urine and difficulty peeing
- bleeding from the rectum (bottom)
- blood in your semen.
There are also possible side effects of some treatments, such as:
- problems getting and maintaining an erection
- leaking pee
- bowel problems, pain, tiredness, mental and emotional stress and forced lifestyle changes. These issues could be temporary or permanent.
Talking with your doctor
Your doctor wants you to have all the information you need to make the right choice for you. You may want to take a support person (friend, family/whānau) with you when you visit. Your doctor can discuss any cultural concerns and symptoms you may have about your prostate health and known side effects of testing and treatment.
Questions to ask your doctor
Being prepared and ready with your questions before you visit the doctor can help you get the information you would like to make your choice of testing for prostate cancer. Here is a list of some questions you could consider:
- Are the signs I have likely to be prostate cancer?
- What is my risk of getting prostate cancer?
- What are my options for testing?
- What are the possible risks of testing?
- Under what circumstances would I need to have a biopsy?
- What happens during a biopsy?Does it hurt?
- What complications could happen from a biopsy?
- How long will it take to get biopsy results?
- What happens if the biopsy shows there is prostate cancer?
- Can prostate cancer be cured?
- What support is available to help me?
Tips for prostate health
There’s no absolute prostate cancer prevention, but healthy choices such as regular exercise (30 minutes a day), eating a healthy diet, keeping a healthy weight and not smoking may help.