Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in New Zealand men. Some prostate cancers are slow growing and will never cause problems. Others are faster growing, can cause serious symptoms or be life-threatening.

Prostate cancer is more common in men aged over 50, but is more likely to cause problems if it occurs in younger men. If caught early, prostate cancer can be managed well and can usually be cured. However, not all prostate cancer needs to be treated.

Choosing whether to have a prostate check is an important decision. Your doctor can help you decide whether a prostate test is right for you, by assessing your symptoms and risk factors such as your age and family history.

What is the prostate?

The prostate gland is only found in men.It is a small walnut-shaped gland the surrounds the bladder opening. It helps make semen. As men age the prostate gland increases in size (known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH) . From age 50 years, men often experience problems with urination (peeing) due to this. 

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is caused when some of the cells within the prostate gland start to grow out of control, invading and destroying healthy cells. Most commonly, prostate cancer grows slowly, but sometimes it can grow rapidly and spread to other areas, such as the bones, liver and lungs.

How common is prostate cancer?

In New Zealand, about 3000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year and more than 600 die from the disease.

Maori men are more likely than non-Maori men to die of prostate cancer because it is often found too late to cure. Men who live in rural areas are at greater risk than those who live in urban areas because they have less access to health services. 

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Early prostate cancer causes no symptoms. As the cancer grows, it can cause urinary symptoms such such as problems with flow, dribbling, trouble stopping and starting and needing to go more often, at night or urgently. 

As men get older, it is common to get urinary symptoms such as these. Most of the time these symptoms are due to other common prostate problems (such as benign enlargement of the prostate gland), however you should always have it checked.

See a doctor without delay if you have any of the following:

  • blood in your urine
  • pain with urination
  • burning with urination
  • inability to urinate. 

Who should get checked for prostate cancer?

If you are a man aged 50 to 70 years old, or you are in your 40s and your father or brother has had prostate cancer, and you are having trouble peeing, see your doctor for a check up.

Having a prostate check is your decision. The check won’t tell you if you have prostate cancer, but it will tell you how likely you are to have it. Checks usually involve a blood test called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and a digital rectal examination (DRE).

Read more about prostate testing.

What is my risk of prostate cancer?

Your risk of prostate cancer increases as you age and also if your brother or father has it.

  • Age – the risk of prostate cancer increases as you age. It is rare in men under 50. Men under the age of 70 who get prostate cancer are more likely to need treatment. This is because younger men will live longer with their cancer, and it will have more time to progress and cause problems.
  • Family history – you are have double the chance of getting prostate cancer if your father or brother have prostate cancer.

What are the treatment options for prostate cancer?

Treatment options include active surveillance (no active treatment, but watch and wait), surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and palliative care.

The choice of treatment depends on the size, type, growth and spread of the cancer, and on your age, general health, symptoms and personal choice.

Prostate cancer that has not spread can respond well to treatment. However, some of the treatments have side effects, such as incontinence and impotence, which can affect your quality of life. You can discuss the possible effects of treatment with your doctor.

Sometimes, your doctor may advise against treatment. This is because it may not be of benefit if the cancer is not affecting your quality of life (and it may never do so). This is often the best approach if the cancer is at an early stage and slow growing, or if you are very elderly. This is known as active surveillance, or watch and wait, as you will still need to be examined regularly to check that the cancer is not spreading.

How can I reduce my risk of prostate cancer?

You can reduce your risk of prostate cancer by finding the cancer early and by having a healthy lifestyle.

Healthy lifestyle choices include:

  • having a low-fat, high-fibre diet that include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • maintaining a healthy bodyweight
  • exercising regularly
  • being smokefree.

Read more about healthy living.

Learn more

Reviewed By: Health Navigator