Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in South African men, says the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). The cancer originates in the prostate, a tiny organ that’s no bigger than a walnut. When detected early, survival rates are more than 90%, but if found late, can drop below 26%.

Risk factors

Age – risk increases with age, especially after the age of 50. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect younger men. Men should speak to a doctor if they’re between the age of 50 and 60 about a prostate exam.

Family history – usually because of a combination of shared genes or lifestyle factors.

Diet – although there are no studies that prove a connection between eating habits and cancer, a diet high in saturated fats and obesity may increase the risk.

Symptoms of prostate cancer

Watch out for these:

• An urge to urinate frequently, especially at night
• Difficulty starting or holding back urination
• Weak, dribbling, or interrupted flow of urine
• Painful or burning urination
• Difficulty in having an erection
• A decrease in the amount of fluid ejaculated
• Painful ejaculation
• Blood in the urine or semen
• Pressure or pain in the rectum
• Pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, pelvis, or thighs

Prostate screening tests may include:

Digital rectal exam (DRE)

A doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to examine the prostate. If any abnormalities are found in the texture, shape or size of the gland, further tests may need to be done.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test

A blood sample is drawn from a vein in the arm and analysed for PSA, a substance that’s naturally produced by your prostate gland. A small amount of PSA in the bloodstream is normal, while a higher level may indicate prostate infection, inflammation, enlargement or cancer.
A PSA test combined with DRE can help identify prostate cancers at their earliest stages.

Diagnosing prostate cancer

If a DRE or PSA test detects any abnormalities, the doctor may recommend further tests, for example:

• Ultrasound
This is when a small probe, about the size and shape of a cigar, is inserted into the rectum. The probe uses sound waves to create a picture of the prostate gland.

• Collecting a sample of prostate tissue
If initial test results detect prostate cancer, the doctor may recommend a procedure to collect a sample of cells from the prostate (prostate biopsy). A prostate biopsy is often done using a thin needle that’s inserted into the prostate to collect tissue. The tissue sample is analysed in a lab to determine whether cancer cells are present.

Good to know

While it’s not possible to prevent prostate cancer, it is possible to reduce the risk by going for regular check-ups; once every two years for men 50 and over and annually if prostate cancer runs in the family.