Anatomy and Physiology
The prostate is a small gland situated internally at the top of the male penis, just below the bladder. It is doughnut in shape and encircles the urethra. The prostate glands function is to produce a fluid that protects and enriches sperm. It is about the size of a walnut in young men but often enlarges with age.
Prostate cancer occurs when the body produces more prostate cells than is normal, forming a tumor or lump on the prostate. In its early stages, there are no signs or symptoms but as it progresses, men will experience problems with urination. If the tumor is detected in its early stages, it is curable. But if signs and symptoms are present, it is likely that the cancer has already spread, particularly to the bones and lymph nodes. This is called secondary cancer and can be life threatening.
Signs and Symptoms
Prostate cancer is symptom free in its early stages but as the disease progresses, men can experience the need to urinate frequently, especially at night, sudden urges to urinate, difficulty commencing urine flow, pain experienced whilst urinating, interrupted periods of flow of urination, dribbling and blood in the urine and or semen.
Genetic Predisposition - If you have a family history of prostate cancer, your risk factors of developing the disease are higher. Genes seem to play a role.
Age - Men over the age of 50 are more commonly diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Race - Caucasian men have a higher incidence compared to Asian, African and Hispanic nationalities.
Diet - Red meat consumption and high fat dairy products are possible causes and a lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet.
Obesity - More cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in overweight men.
Exercise - Fewer cases are diagnosed in men who are physically active over the age of 50.
Treatment for prostate cancer is dependent on these factors, your age, your current health, the grade of cancer and stage that the cancer is at.
If you are an older man and the cancer is slow growing and does not have an effect on your life expectancy then the cancer can be monitored to make sure nothing has changed significantly.
If the cancer has not spread outside the prostate then surgery may be an option. A prostatectomy is often performed to remove the prostate and often some of the surrounding tissue.
Radiotherapy actively destroys cancer cells and may also be used in conjunction post surgery. Radiotherapy is also effective at alleviating symptoms of prostate cancer.
Medications are used to slow the production of testosterone which is made in the testicles. This inhibits the growth of the tumor. Hormone therapy is most often used in cases where the cancer has spread to other tissues in the body giving the recipient a period of remission which may last several years.
Chemotherapy is used if the cancer has spread from the prostate to other organs and tissues. It destroys cancer cells but also destroys normal cells leading to many side effects.
Sexual Performance Post Diagnosis and Treatment
Prostate cancer does not usually affect male erections. However treatment can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection. Radiotherapy and surgery can damage the nerves and blood vessels which are required to have an erection. Hormone therapy decreases male sexual drive. Sexual arousal, excitement and orgasm remain the same post treatment. Achieving an erection often is difficult but there are many products available on the market that can help. Medications, vacuum pumps, injection therapy and penile prosthesis can be used.
If you are over the age of 50 or have a family history of prostate cancer then it is in your best interests to have an annual digital rectal examination and blood test for prostate cancer. If it’s going to save your life then a little discomfort and perhaps embarrassment is worth your trouble.
Eating a healthy diet may reduce your chances of developing the disease. Increasing the amount of folate in your diet has been scientifically proven to decrease you chances of prostate cancer. Foods that are rich in folate are orange juice, beans, green vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals. Eat red meats and high fat dairy products in moderation.
Exercise is important in preventing many diseases. Taking a 30 minute walk each day is all that is needed to improve you overall health.
In conclusion, early detection leads to good prognostic outcomes. Men have so many responsibilities in life, be it supporting, parenting, loving, earning money, caring for family and paying bills. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to look after your health needs. Don’t put off that doctors visit today until tomorrow. It could save your life.