Prostate cancer, and some of the intimacies associated with initial diagnosis, seems to have resulted in a reluctance among men to consult with their doctors. Convincing men - as they get older - to be alert for it and its possible consequences is an important task for men's health in general.
If you feel that something is a little wrong with a familiar body function - then get it checked out as soon as possible. Early detection and then early treatment is the advice time and again from the medical profession but its importance can still not be overstated.
Prostate cancer is the most significant cancer that only affects men. In the UK roughly one in eight men will be affected at some point in their lives. Every year some 40,000 men are diagnosed with the disease and about a quarter of a million British men are living with the disease. Some view the condition as being relatively benign and this is indeed often the case with the statistics showing that for men aged over 80, a large proportion will display symptoms that do not prove to be fatal. Nonetheless, every year in the UK over 10,000 men die as a result of it - and globally the figure reaches around 300,000.
As is typical with all cancers, its occurrence is closely connected with age - it is most often detected in men between 70 and 75. There is currently significant variation across different racial groups. Incidence of the condition is lower among Asian men and highest for men of Afro-Caribbean heritage.
In regard to genetics and prostate cancer, the chance of developing the cancer due to genetics is limited with less than 10% of prostate cancers being associate with inherited risk. However, the likelihood of a man contracting the condition is still two and a half time greater if his father or a brother has had it. The risk is even greater if relatives have been diagnosed aged under 60.
Also interesting to note is that there appears to be an association with some forms of breast cancer. For example, if a close female relative has breast cancer where the cancer itself is linked to specific genetic faults ( in genes BRCA1 and BRCA2) there may be a greater likelihood of a man suffering prostate cancer.
As with all cancers, the condition is essentially a rapid growth of cells in the affected tissue. The prostate gland's function relates to the creation of the seminal fluid - the gland is located close to the bladder and its growth when affected by cancer typically manifests itself in problems associated with passing water - most often in more frequent urination ( as the capacity of the bladder is reduced).
There has been some controversy over means of detecting the disease. Much of this centres on the role of Prostate- Specific Antigen ( PSA). This is a protein produced by the prostate and a high level in the blood may be an early indicator of the onset of the disease. However a raised level is not solely associated with cancer as some more benign conditions also raise PSA levels.
Given the uneven incidence of the cancer across racial groups the fact that much of the testing of PSA levels has been with Caucasian men has also raised questions about how it may best be used for screening.
Prostate cancer is often not a particularly aggressive form of cancer - in many cases it does not spread from the prostate to other areas. Where necessary, surgery and post-operative therapy, together with regular monitoring, will often contain and resolve the condition.
However there are some forms which are indeed aggressive and can be rapidly life threatening. A major focus on research is on the early identification of men suffering from these forms and ensuring they quickly get the appropriate treatment and follow up. The aim is to identify unambiguously those markers which can confidently distinguish the truly aggressive from relatively benign forms of the disease.
The medical professionals advice on avoiding and preventing the condition contains all of the familiar elements - avoid smoking, develop a sensible use of alcohol, stick to a mixed diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables - and exercise regularly.