The prostate is a vital element of the male biological reproductive system. It’s about the size and shape of a walnut — but if left unchecked, this small gland can cause big problems.
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Each year, close to 200,000 Americans receives a diagnosis of prostate cancer, making it one of the most common cancers affecting people who have a prostate. That includes cisgender men, transgender women, intersex people and non-binary people with biologically male sex organs.
If diagnosed early, though, the survival rate for prostate cancer is high. So what should you be on the lookout for? Urologist Christopher Weight, MD, says most people with prostate cancer don’t have any signs or symptoms, but there are some changes you may notice that you should bring up with your doctor.
8 changes you shouldn’t ignore
Early-stage prostate cancer rarely causes symptoms — but as the disease progresses, you may experience certain warning signs. Knowing the signs of prostate cancer will help you keep an eye out for any concerning changes to your health.
“Keep in mind, though, these symptoms don’t indicate trouble with your prostate,” Dr. Weight says. “In fact, almost all of them come standard with aging. But if you experience several symptoms or have other concerns, it may be a good idea to visit a urologist.”
1. Slow or weak urine flow
Most people with a prostate have trouble urinating as they age, and it’s not usually due to prostate cancer. Still, if you experience a slow or weak urine flow, or if your urine flow starts and stops beyond your ability to control it, it’s a good idea to get your prostate checked.
2. Frequent need to urinate
A tumor on the prostate can put pressure on your bladder and urethra, so take note if you start to feel a frequent and sometimes urgent need to urinate, especially at night.
3. Painful or burning urination
This condition, known as dysuria, is most commonly associated with urinary tract infections, but it can sometimes be a sign of prostate cancer.
4. Blood in the urine
Another possible warning sign of prostate cancer is hematuria, or blood in the urine. Though this can be associated with other health issues, including a urinary tract infection, it’s worth getting checked out.
5. Prostate pain
A rare but early sign of prostate trouble is unexplained pain in the area of your prostate, especially when you’re sitting down. “This could also indicate a prostate infection, but only your urologist can say for certain,” Dr. Weight says.
6. Loss of bladder or bowel control
Both urinary incontinence and fecal incontinence can come with age or be related to other medical conditions. But if you’re experiencing bladder leakage or an inability to control your bowel movements, speak with your doctor about ruling out prostate cancer.
7. Ejaculation issues
It’s worth noting, yet again, that all of these issues can be related to other health conditions. But if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, touch base with a urologist to get to the bottom of it.
- Painful ejaculation.
- Decreased volume of ejaculation.
- Inability to keep an erection.
- Blood in the semen (hematospermia).
8. Pain or numbness
As prostate cancer progresses, it may cause pain in your lower back, hips or chest, or numbness in your legs or feet. Most people receive a diagnosis before reaching this point, and of course, pain and numbness can be signs of a variety of other health issues, as well.
Lower your risk for prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is a serious disease, but early detection is key. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and when or if you should be screened for prostate cancer — sometimes as early as age 40, if you’re considered high risk.
“There’s no way to eliminate the risk of getting prostate cancer,” Dr. Weight says, “but if you’re at a higher risk for developing the disease, there are steps you can take to lower your risk.”
- Get regular prostate screenings.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Quit smoking.
“When prostate cancer is diagnosed before it spreads to other parts of the body, about 97% of people live at least five years after diagnosis,” Dr. Weight says.
So pay attention to your prostate. It may be small — but knowing the warning signs can benefit your health in a big way.