Prostate cancer: the three questions to tell if you’re at risk

One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, but the good news is it’s treatable – and a charity is urging people to take a simple questionnaire to understand their risk.

Got a spare moment? A quick and easy online quiz from Prostate Cancer UK could help you understand how likely you are to get the disease – and if found early, it has an almost 100% survival rate.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in UK men, and early detection is key. Almost everyone who’s diagnosed at stage one or two (when the cancer is contained within the prostate gland) will survive for five years or more.

Some prostate cancers grow slowly and you might not notice symptoms for many years, so it’s important to know if you’re at risk. See your GP if you have any of these common symptoms:

  • Needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night
  • Feeling the need to urinate, but having difficulty getting started
  • A weak flow
  • A sudden need to urinate
  • A feeling that your bladder hasn’t emptied
  • Blood in your urine or semen
Two men looking at phoneCredit: Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia

What’s my risk of prostate cancer?

One in eight men will get it: over-50s are most affected and your risk increases with age. The cause is unknown and symptoms don’t usually appear until the prostate becomes enlarged and affects the tube that carries urine from the penis (urethra). Anyone with a prostate could get it, including trans women and non-binary people who were assigned male at birth and some intersex people.  

Factors such as family history could put you at a higher risk, particularly if your father or brother had prostate cancer or your mother or sister had breast cancer. Ethnicity affects your risk too – it’s more common in Black men compared with other ethnic backgrounds (one in four Black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime). The reason why is not yet known.

Nothing to be embarrassed about

Because early stage prostate cancer doesn’t always show symptoms, it’s important to be aware of your risk. Awareness of the disease has been boosted by celebrities, including Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen and Nile Rodgers, talking openly about being diagnosed and living with it.

In the week following much-loved TV presenter Bill Turnbull’s death from the disease last August, Prostate Cancer UK saw a 2,500% increase in people using their risk checker, and the charity noticed the “Fry-Turnbull” effect causing a spike in referrals. Fry and Turnbull both announced their diagnosis in 2018 and the charity is now encouraging people to “Broadcast it like Bill”, and talk about symptoms and check their risk.

Diagnosing prostate cancer: what is a PSA test?

A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test can help with early detection of prostate cancer, and if you’re over 50 you can ask your GP for one.

It’s a simple blood test, but it’s not commonly used for screening because your PSA level can be raised by other, non-cancerous conditions.

If you do have a raised PSA level, your GP may offer you an MRI scan of your prostate to see if you need further tests and treatment.

Early stage prostate cancer doesn’t always need treatment and your doctor might suggest “watchful waiting” or “active surveillance” to keep an eye on it.

Find out more from the NHS here

Check your risk – and find out what to do

Referrals for urological cancer (which also includes kidney, bladder, testicle and penis as well as prostate) in England rose 17% in the past year to 262,044. If you do have any of the symptoms listed, or something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s important to see your GP to rule out anything serrious. This can be done with a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test or an examination.

Amy Rylance, head of improving care at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “Prostate cancer often has no symptoms in its early, more treatable stages – so a man could feel fit and well while unknowingly living with the disease.

“That’s why it’s so important to understand your level of risk, which is higher for all men over 50. If you’re Black, or your dad or brother had the disease, the risk is even greater, so we strongly recommend you speak to your GP from the age of 45.

“You can check your risk, and find out what you can do about it, using Prostate Cancer UK’s online risk checker.”

NHS national clinical director for cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said: “It is fantastic to see men coming forward in record numbers for checks, and that means more are getting treated, potentially catching cancers early when the results are best.”

Worried about prostate cancer?

Anyone with concerns about prostate cancer can contact Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses in confidence on 0800 074 8383 or online via the Live Chat instant messaging service on the website. The specialist nurse phone service is free from landlines and open from 9am to 5pm on weekdays (10am to 5pm on Wednesdays).  

What can I do to prevent prostate cancer?

No one knows how to prevent prostate cancer, but Prostate Cancer UK suggests the following measures that could help:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Staying physically active
  • Eating a healthy diet, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day; limiting caffeine and sugary drinks, and minimising your intake of saturated fat, salt and sugar
  • Cutting down on red and processed meat: eat no more than 70g a day
  • Stopping smoking: smoking is linked to aggressive prostate cancer, but if you quit  your risk is lower after ten years.
Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier

Updated:

Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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