6 things to know about prostate cancer

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong underwent successful surgery at Singapore General Hospital for prostate cancer last Saturday.

Mr Goh, 73, was prime minister from 1990 to 2004. He is expected to make a full recovery as the cancer was localised and detected early, said his doctor, Dr Sim Hong Gee.

Here are six things you should know about this type of cancer:

1. The prostate is the gland below a man's bladder that produces fluid for semen. Prostate cancer occurs when the cells in the prostrate grow and multiply uncontrollably, eventually spreading to surrounding tissues, lymph nodes, skeletal bones and other regions of the body.

2. Prostate cancer is on the rise here. According to the Singapore Cancer Registry, 3,456 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer from 2009 to 2013. This makes it the third most common cancer among men in Singapore and the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths.

3. Men aged 50 and above are at the greatest risk. Age, family history and a high-fat diet may also increase your risk.

4. There are no warning signs of early prostate cancer. The symptoms of advanced prostate cancer include difficulty in passing urine due to obstruction to the passage of urine, back pain due to the spread of cancer to the bone and weakness or swelling of lower limbs due to cancer obstructing the lymphatic channels.

5. A key way to monitor signs of the cancer is with the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. However, this test has come under controversy in recent years as it has been said to lead to misdiagnosis and overtreatment. A very high PSA level suggests the presence of prostate cancer - but the test is not specific, so there may be other non-cancerous causes for high readings too. Despite that, doctors here have since said that the test should not be dismissed as it remains useful.

6. For localised prostate cancer, treatment involves prostatectomy, a major surgery to remove the prostate and adjacent seminal vesicles. Radiation therapy is an alternative.

Sources: Singapore Cancer Society; The Straits Times' Mind Your Body

joanchew@sph.com.sg