What is prostate cancer?

As is the case with other organs in the body, cancer may develop in the prostate. Typically in the early stages of growth, cancer in the prostate does not exhibit symptoms. When symptoms do appear, for example issues with urine flow, typically the cancer is well advanced. There are other (non-cancer) reasons for changed urine flow, so these need to be investigated, so that the correct cause can be identified.

Early detection and timely treatment are of the utmost importance.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia recommends that men over age 50, or 40 with a family history of prostate cancer, should talk to their doctor about testing for prostate cancer using the PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test and DRE (Digital Rectal Examination) as part of their annual health check-up. Men should make an individual informed decision about testing, based on the latest available evidence on the benefits and potential harms of testing, and the subsequent treatment for prostate cancer. Read more on the Prostate cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) website.

If your GP’s tests show you may be at risk of prostate cancer, you will be referred to a specialist (usually a urologist) for a biopsy. The specialist removes small samples of tissue from your prostate, using very thin, hollow needles guided by an ultrasound. The prostate is either accessed through the rectum (transrectal) or the perineum (transperineal), which is the area between the anus and the scrotum. A biopsy is usually done as an out-patient procedure and the doctor will likely advise a course of antibiotics afterwards to reduce the chance of infection. The tissue is sent to a pathologist to identify whether the cells are malignant (cancerous) or benign (not cancerous).

Recent developments in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have improved the ability of multiparametric MRI to detect tumours, stage cancer and help in management decisions.  They are also helping to more accurately target biopsies, therefore your specialist may recommend an MRI scan before a biopsy is done.