Dr Clare Bailey: Men, don’t ignore these symptoms

Do you have a man in your life who you have to nag to seek medical advice? It sounds like a cliché but it’s true that men are less likely to go to the doctor than women – and this could contribute to why we’re seeing a rise in deaths from prostate cancer.

Dr Clare Bailey prostate cancer
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While breast cancer deaths have reduced by a fifth over the past ten years, the number of men dying from prostate cancer has worryingly increased by 18 per cent. By 2030 it is predicted to become the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK. Currently, less than half of cases are identified early, when there is a greater chance of a cure. The NHS wants to increase this to 75 per cent.

The standard test measures a marker for prostate cancer called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in a blood sample, accompanied by a rectal examination. Unfortunately, the PSA test is not very reliable. Only 25 per cent of men who have elevated levels have cancer. Other conditions such as inflammation of the prostate gland, urinary tract infection and benign enlargement of the prostate can cause abnormal PSA. This can lead to anxiety and side effects from unnecessary investigations. So it’s important to chat with your doctor about any concerns before testing.

The good news is that more accurate tests are becoming available. These include the pre-biopsy MRI scan, which is used to identify tumour size and improves the accuracy of results. After a diagnosis the challenge is whether to intervene with surgery, risking impotence and urinary incontinence, or to monitor PSA levels and intervene if they rise. This ‘active surveillance’ or ‘watchful waiting’ is for those whose cancer is unlikely to spread or affect their lifespan.

Aggressive cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, hormones and/or chemotherapy. Stereotactic radiotherapy is a new treatment in the pipeline that doesn’t involve surgery. Targeted beams of radiation are focused on a precise area to radically improve accuracy of diagnosis, more effectively kill cancer cells and reduce complications. Trials suggest shorter intense doses can cut treatment time by 75 per cent.

According to Prostate Cancer UK, most men with early prostate cancer don’t have symptoms. However, you are more at risk if you are over 50, a black male, or have close male relatives who have had the disease. Early symptoms can include…

Urinary problems Passing urine more frequently or feeling that your bladder is not fully empty (benign prostate enlargement can also cause these). Blood in the urine should be investigated more urgently.

Sexual problems Erectile dysfunction may be a symptom. Blood in semen should always be investigated promptly.

Pain, numbness or weakness in the testicles. And if cancer has spread to other parts of the body, pain affecting the back or pelvis.

Unexplained weight loss This should always be checked out.

Although diagnosis is increasing, according to Prostate Cancer UK, a man diagnosed in 2020 has a much improved chance of survival compared with one diagnosed ten years ago. See prostatecanceruk.org

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Want to lose weight? Take note

Journaling has been a growing trend in recent years. Many people keep a ‘gratitude diary’ – a daily note of something they are thankful for – which is said to boost optimism as well as reduce depression and stress. Meanwhile, research shows that by keeping a food journal you can double weight loss. According to a study of 1,700 participants by healthcare company Kaiser Permanente: ‘Those who kept food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories.’ Through journaling, you find yourself more able to persist with exercise regimes, improve your sleep or stick to a diet. So, with this in mind, I have published The Fast 800 Health Journal, which includes recipes and tips, as well as drawings by my niece Emily.

If you have a question you would like answered, email drclarebailey@you.co.uk