Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men in Northern Ireland. Prostate cancer usually develops slowly, so there may be no signs you have it for many years. Most cases develop in men aged 50 or older. See your GP if you have any of the symptoms below.

Symptoms of prostate cancer

Prostate cancer does not normally cause symptoms until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the urethra.

This normally results in problems linked to urination (peeing); lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) which can include:

  • needing to urinate more often, especially during the night
  • needing to rush to the toilet
  • difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)
  • straining or taking a long time while urinating
  • weak flow
  • feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully
  • dribbling of urine after peeing

Many men's prostates get larger as they get older due to a non-cancerous condition known as prostate enlargement or benign prostatic hyperplasia.

Symptoms that the cancer may have spread include bone and back pain, a loss of appetite, tiredness, pain in the testicles and unexplained weight loss.

Erection problems (impotence) may also be a sign of prostate cancer.

When to see your GP

If you have symptoms that could be caused by prostate cancer, you should visit your GP.

There is no single, definitive test for prostate cancer, so your GP will discuss the pros and cons of the various tests with you to try to avoid unnecessary anxiety.

Your doctor is likely to:

  • ask for a urine sample to check for infection
  • discuss with you the option of taking a blood sample to test your level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA)
  • examine your prostate (digital rectal examination)

The prostate

The prostate is a small gland in the pelvis found only in men. About the size of a satsuma, it's located between the penis and the bladder and surrounds the urethra.

The main function of the prostate is to help in the production of semen. It produces a thick white fluid that is mixed with the sperm produced by the testicles, to create semen.

Causes of prostate cancer

The causes of prostate cancer are largely unknown. Certain things can increase your risk of developing the condition.

The chances of developing prostate cancer increase as you get older. In Northern Ireland, over 98 per cent of cases develop in men aged 50 or older, and the rate is greatest among men aged over 70.

For reasons not yet understood, prostate cancer is more common in men of African-Caribbean or African descent.

Men who have close male relatives (such as a father or brother) affected by prostate cancer are also at slightly increased risk.

Treating prostate cancer

For many men with prostate cancer, treatment is not immediately necessary.

If the cancer is at an early stage and not causing symptoms, a policy of ’watchful waiting’ or ’active surveillance’ may be adopted. This involves monitoring your condition.

Some cases of prostate cancer can be cured if treated in the early stages. Treatments include surgically removing the prostate, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.

If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, your hospital consultant will discuss  treatment options with you.

Some cases are only diagnosed at a later stage when the cancer has spread. If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, typically the bones, it cannot be cured and treatment is focused on prolonging life and relieving symptoms.

Living with prostate cancer

As prostate cancer usually progresses very slowly, you can live for decades without symptoms or needing treatment.

However, it can have an effect on your life. As well as causing physical problems such as erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence, a diagnosis of prostate cancer can understandably make you feel anxious or depressed.

You may find it useful to talk about the condition with your family, friends, a family doctor and other men with prostate cancer, see more useful links below.


The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published April 2018

This page is due for review April 2020

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