Prostate cancer: what you need to knowNational Pharmacies
In Australia, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer amongst men. It is predicted to become the third most common form of cancer diagnosed by the end of the year.
The incidence of prostate cancer amongst males increases from age 35-39 years until those aged 65-69 years, however, it is rare in males aged under 50 years old. It’s fair to say prostate cancer is a cause for concern in many men across Australia, which begs the question, what is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is when abnormal cells are grown at a faster rate than normal cells in the prostate gland (only found in men), causing the gland to enlarge. The prostate gland is located below the bladder, surrounding the urethra and is roughly the size of a walnut.
Common symptoms patients may experience include…
• Difficulty passing urine
• Slow/interrupted flow of urine
• Incontinence (involuntary passing urine)
• Frequent urge to urinate.
The cause, however, is unknown and there is no way to prevent prostate cancer at this time. However, there are many treatments available for prostate cancer, which are dependent on the stage of cancer. The 5-year survival rate after diagnosis in Australia in 2013 was 95 per cent, demonstrating treatment can be very effective. Watchful waiting is one tactic used to monitor prostate cancer. This primarily involves regular blood tests and clinical check-ups. It is far less strict than the other options and is suitable for older men who are unlikely to be affected by the disease in their lifetime.
Active surveillance is also commonly used. This involves performing blood tests every 3-6 months, a rectal examination every 6 months, MRI scans and biopsies at 12 months and 3 years. This method is commonly used in localised prostate cancer, where the cancer is considered small, has a low risk of spreading and isn’t causing any symptoms for the patient. It is the preferred option when risk of treatment with chemotherapy or surgery outweighs the benefits of no treatment.
Radical Prostatectomy (complete surgical removal of the prostate gland) can be a viable option, especially if it is diagnosed early and the patient has a life expectancy longer than 7-10 years.
The alternative to surgery is radiotherapy, which can be offered to males with early prostate cancer and who are otherwise in good health.
Androgen Depravation Therapy (ADT) is when hormones are given to try to shrink, or slow the growth of the cancer. This won’t cure the cancer, but may help manage it for months or even years.
Chemotherapy is generally used in advanced stages of prostate cancer. However, it can be used in combination with radiotherapy and ADT.
Other medications have been developed in recent times, such as abiraterone and enzalutamide, which are used in advanced prostate cancer and may help reduce symptoms and prolong life.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer amongst males in Australia and although it is a serious condition, there are many treatment options available for patients, which can assist in managing symptoms and prolonging life.
If you have questions about prostate cancer and/or its treatment, talk to a National Pharmacies pharmacist or your doctor.
Ananth Venkatesh, Pharmacist in Charge, National Pharmacies Mount Barker
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