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Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia1 and the third most common cause of cancer death. It is more common in older men, with 85% of cases diagnosed in men over 65 years of age.
Incidence and mortality
In 2010, 19,821 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed in Australia. This represents 30% of all cancers diagnosed in Australian men. The risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer by age of 85 is 1 in 5 men.
In 2011, there were 3294 deaths caused by prostate cancer, accounting for 13% of all cancer deaths in Australian men.
There is no population screening test for prostate cancer proven to lower the death rate. The prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test can detect the disease early, however elevated PSA levels do not necessarily mean cancer is present. The test also misses some cancers.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Urinary symptoms are nonspecific and include frequent urination, particularly at night, pain on urination, blood in the urine and a weak stream. More widespread disease often spreads to the bones and gives pain or unexplained weight loss and fatigue.
Diagnosis is made using a digital rectal examination to feel the prostate and a blood test for PSA. A rectal ultrasound can image the prostate and multiple needle biopsies are used to detect the disease and determine its aggressiveness (the Gleason grade of 1-5 is added from two samples to form a score; low scores of 2-4 indicate slow growing disease).
The staging system used for prostate cancer is the TNM system, which describes the stage of the cancer from stage I to stage IV. Ninety per cent of patients present with local disease. Bone and CT scans are used to determine spread.
The risk of prostate cancer rises with age, increasing rapidly over 50 years. Family history increases the chances of developing the disease. There has been some association with a diet high in fats and low in fresh fruit and vegetables. Men of African descent are at higher risk than men of European descent, and there is an association with high testosterone levels.
There are no proven measures to prevent prostate cancer.
Low-grade disease confined to the prostate may be ‘watched’ (regular surveillance by doctor) if not causing symptoms.
Surgery with curative intent removes the whole prostate (radical prostatectomy). The main side-effects are impotence and incontinence. Radical radiotherapy can also be given with curative intent, either with external radiation or by implanting radioactive seeds (brachytherapy). Side-effects are similar to surgery, however bowel problems may also occur.
For widespread disease, hormone therapy reduces the stimulus of the male hormones. Removing the testis or injecting luteinising hormone releasing hormone (LHRH), or anti-androgen hormones, can hold the disease for three to four years and may improve outcomes if given early with radiation in high risk patients. When hormone resistance occurs, chemotherapy with docetaxel can be used, or mitoxantrone can control symptoms. Bisphosphonates (e.g. zoldedronate) can be used to help control bone metastases.
An individual's prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer, as well as their age and general health at the time of diagnosis. The five year survival rate for men diagnosed with prostate cancer is over 92%. Nearly all patients who present with localised disease will live beyond five years, with the 10- and 15-year survival rates being 93% and 77% respectively.
For more information, contact Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 (cost of a local call).
For more information
- Reduce your risk fact sheets
- Early detection of prostate cancer
- Prostate cancer screening
- After a diagnosis of prostate cancer
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. ACIM (Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality) Books. Canberra: AIHW.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries 2012. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2012. Cancer series no. 74. Cat. no. CAN 70. Canberra: AIHW.
This page was last updated on: Tuesday, March 4, 2014