Research holds the key to tackling prostate cancer
Prostate Cancer Awareness Month should encourage all men, particularly the over-50s, to get their 'waterworks' checked out, says Joe O'Sullivan
Nearly 40,000 men per year are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK and approximately 250,000 are currently living with the condition.
The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive organs and is located inside the pelvis, below the bladder. Urine from the bladder needs to pass through the prostate gland before leaving the body and, therefore, bladder, or urinary, symptoms can be the first sign of prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer becomes more common with increasing age and is most common in men in their late sixties and very uncommon below the age of 50.
The causes of prostate cancer are mostly unknown; however, there is some evidence that eating too much animal fats and not enough fruit and fibre may increase the risk over many years.
Prostate cancer grows slowly compared to other cancers and, therefore, the symptoms – if any – are usually mild.
Men with prostate cancer may experience increased frequency of passing urine, a reduction in the strength of urine flow, or pain on passing urine. For too long, men have put up with these types of symptoms and accepted them as part of getting older.
My advice to men is to talk to your GP about your 'waterworks'. There is nothing to be gained by being shy.
A simple blood test, available from all GPs, called PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) can help in the diagnosis of prostate cancer.
A high PSA might be caused by prostate cancer although it can also be raised in the presence of a number of situations, including urinary tract infection, or enlarged prostate gland.
A high PSA test usually results in referral to a urologist for a biopsy of the prostate gland. The biopsy is done as an outpatient and can help to identify any cancer and also to find out the type of cancer.
The treatment for prostate cancer depends on the type of cancer, whether it has spread to other organs (eg bones) and also the general health and condition of the patient.
Most men with the least aggressive type of cancer do not need treatment and are usually monitored by regular PSA test and examinations.
For men requiring treatment for localised (caught early) prostate cancer, there are a number of options, including radiotherapy, brachytherapy (using radioactive seeds placed into the prostate) and prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate gland).
Before a treatment decision is made, men diagnosed with prostate cancer will have their case discussed in detail by a panel of expert doctors, known as the uro-oncology multidiscliplinary team.
Men in Northern Ireland have access to a wide range of state-of-the-art prostate cancer treatment, including intensity modulated radiotherapy, volumetric modulated arc therapy, laporascopic prostatectomy and brachytherapy.
Through research, the outcomes for men with advanced, or aggressive, prostate cancer have improved greatly in the past few years.
At the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen's University and the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre, we are determined to improve the lives of men with prostate cancer through research.
We collaborate with other researchers around the world and are determined that Belfast becomes a centre of excellence in the research and treatment of prostate cancer.
I am inspired on a daily basis by the courageous men and their families whom I meet who are living with prostate cancer.
We owe it to those who have died from this terrible disease to continue the fight through more research.