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Prostate cancer: what people in Yorkshire need to know

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in Yorkshire. March is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re urging all men in the region to look out for the symptoms. Here is what you need to know.

A doctor and patient having an appointment at a GP practice

What is the prostate?

The prostate is a small organ in men which sits below the bladder, and surrounds a tube called the urethra which carries urine from the bladder to the penis. Its main function is to produce fluid found in semen.


What are the symptoms of prostate cancer? 

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

Symptoms of prostate cancer can include:

  • Having to wee more often than usual, often at night
  • Having to rush to the toilet to wee
  • Difficulty in starting or straining when trying to wee
  • Having a weak flow
  • A sense of not being able to completely empty your bladder
  • Blood in wee or semen

However, for some of these symptoms there are many possible causes. So having these symptoms does not mean you definitely have prostate cancer.  

For example, in many men their prostates get larger as they get older, because of a non-cancerous condition called ‘benign prostate enlargement' (or ‘benign prostatic hyperplasia’). This can cause many of the symptoms listed above.  


How many men get prostate cancer in Yorkshire?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. In 2021, 4,032 men in Yorkshire were diagnosed with this cancer.

In 2018, the number of prostate cancers being diagnosed in Yorkshire peaked, increasing by 26% from the previous year to 4,710. This is because of increased awareness of the condition following announcements from actor Stephen Fry and broadcaster Bill Turnbull of their own prostate cancer diagnoses (which has become known as a ‘Fry and Turnbull effect’). By 2021 this effect appeared to have ended, with figures maintaining a normal level.


What factors affect the risk of developing prostate cancer?

1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives.  


The main factor that influences risk of prostate cancer is age – almost all cases are diagnosed in the over-50s. 

In Yorkshire in 2021, 7 in 10 men diagnosed with prostate cancer were between the ages of 60-79. Only 1 in 10 men were below the age of 60.

Family history and genetic mutations

Family history of cancer is also important. Having a brother or father who developed prostate cancer before the age of 60 can be an indication that you have an increased risk of developing it. Research also suggests having a close female relative who developed breast cancer may also increase your risk.  

Men with genetic mutations such as BRCA2 and Lynch syndrome have a significantly higher risk of prostate cancer. It is estimated that around 1 in 5 men with BRCA2 mutation will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lifetime.


Ethnicity plays a role in prostate cancer risk. Black men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, compared to white or Asian men, or men of mixed ethnicity. In fact, 1 in 4 black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, twice as likely as the average.

Other factors

Contrary to popular belief, having benign prostate enlargement does not mean that you’re more likely to develop prostate cancer.

Unlike other common cancers, there are no proven links between preventable risk factors and prostate cancer. Some research suggests that obesity and certain aspects of diet might play a role in increasing risk of the prostate cancer, but more research is needed to confirm this.


Why is it important we find prostate cancer early?

In 2021, 886 men died from prostate cancer in Yorkshire, making it the second most common cause of cancer death in men.  

Men in Yorkshire are more likely to be diagnosed at a late stage than men in England as a whole (56% in Yorkshire compared to 50% in England, of those diagnosed with a known stage).

The positive news is that when prostate cancers are found early before it has had a chance to grow and spread the likelihood of surviving prostate cancer is high. When cancer is found early, it can usually be treated more successfully. An early diagnosis also means that in many cases, treatments that cause long term side effects can be avoided.

Overall, more than 8 in 10 men (84%) diagnosed with prostate cancer in England survive for five years or more. However, like any cancer, the later that prostate cancer is diagnosed the more difficult it can be to treat. 

So it’s really important to contact your GP as soon as possible if you have any of the symptoms listed. The symptoms might not be caused by prostate cancer, but if they are, being diagnosed early could save your life.  


What will happen if I go to the doctor with symptoms? 

If your GP suspects your symptoms could be caused by prostate cancer, there are a few different tests that you could be offered. There is no single test for prostate cancer, but your GP will discuss the pros and cons of different tests.

Your GP will likely test the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood. High levels of PSA in the blood can sometimes indicate prostate cancer. However, there are many reasons why you might have high PSA levels, and in fact most men with high PSA will not have prostate cancer.

You will likely be asked to give a urine sample, to see if there is an infection which could provide another explanation of the symptoms you’re having.

The GP could also examine your prostate with a rectal examination, by inserting a finger into your bottom to feel if your prostate is swollen.

Depending on the results of these tests, and risk factors such as your age, ethnicity and previous family history, your GP may refer you to a hospital to have an MRI scan of your prostate. If this shows a problem, you might also have a biopsy, where a small sample of your prostate is taken with a needle to look for cancerous changes.  


If you, or a man in your life, have any unusual symptoms, it’s vital you contact your GP as soon as possible. If the symptoms do turn out to be caused by prostate cancer, then finding it early gives the best possible chances of survival.