Opinion

Take a minute to learn the risk factors of prostate cancer

We know that one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime and that this statistic is even greater for black men – one in four. According to the results from a recent survey by YouGov for Prostate Cancer UK, we also now know that 83% of men at higher risk of the disease are unaware of their increased vulnerability – an alarming statistic.

What we don’t know is how to distinguish between which men will get the aggressive, life-threatening form of the disease, from those who will get less harmful forms. For health professionals this creates a significant challenge.

Without having tools available to be able to paint a full picture of a man’s individual risk, making treatment decisions following a diagnosis can be incredibly difficult. Should men go for the invasive curative treatment, with its side effects that can include incontinence and erectile dysfunction if there is a chance it is not necessary? Or should they wait and monitor how the disease develops which could mean a dangerous cancer is left to grow unchallenged? For some men it can often be an almost impossible decision to make, and on a daily basis our specialist prostate cancer nurses receive calls on the Prostate Cancer UK Helpline from men concerned about their treatment options.

When men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, they receive an abundance of information regarding their treatment at a time when they are in shock and highly emotional. It’s often not until they get home that they begin to absorb the information, which can spark a number of questions about which treatment they should go for. As nurses it is our job to answer these questions and support men, making sure they have everything they need in order to make an informed and educated decision about which next steps are right for them. Providing ongoing support is also vital, no matter which path is ultimately chosen.

Who’s most at risk?
A man’s risk of prostate cancer significantly increases with age, with the average age of diagnosis being between 70 and 74 years old.

Family history of the disease is another important risk factor. If your brother, father or uncle has had prostate cancer, you are 2.5 times more likely to develop the disease yourself.

African and African Caribbean men are also more at risk, with one in four black men predicted to develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. This is double the risk faced by all men in the UK.

However, four in five of those men whose risk is increased due to one of these factors are not aware that he is at greater risk. If we are going to reduce the number of men who die from this disease every year, this needs to improve. It’s so important that as nurses we are aware of these risk groups for prostate cancer and wherever appropriate encourage men who fit in to these groups to speak to their GP about whether going down the route of diagnostic testing is right for them. Spreading the word is a powerful tool.

About the author

Karen Sumpter is clinical lead at Prostate Cancer UK. The charity provides a range of support, information and educational resources for healthcare professionals working with men affected by prostate disease. Its specialist nurses can be called on 08000 748383. Visit Prostate Cancer UK for further information