What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. It is usually diagnosed in men over 65. Prostate cancer can affect younger men, but it is uncommon in men under 50.

There are different types of prostate cancer:

Symptoms of prostate cancer

If you are worried about prostate cancer, we have more information about the signs and symptoms.

If you have any of the symptoms listed on the signs and symptoms page, it is important to have them checked by your doctor.

Men with early prostate cancer may not have any symptoms, as these only happen when the cancer is large enough to press on the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the penis (urethra).

The symptoms of prostate cancer and a non-cancerous condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) are similar.

The NHS also has information about benign prostate enlargement.

Causes of prostate cancer

Doctors do not know the exact causes of prostate cancer. But there are risk factors that can increase your chance of developing it.

Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get prostate cancer. Also, having no risk factors does not mean you will not develop prostate cancer.

We have more information about the risk factors of prostate cancer.

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Diagnosis of prostate cancer

Men who have symptoms usually begin by seeing their GP. The first tests used to diagnose prostate cancer is a rectal examination. You may also have a PSA test.

The PSA test is a blood test to measure your PSA level. Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein made in the prostate. Some of this PSA leaks into the blood and can be measured by a blood test.

If your PSA level is higher than normal but your rectal examination is normal, your GP usually checks your PSA level again before referring you to a specialist.

Your GP may refer you for other tests at the hospital:

Most prostate cancers grow very slowly. Even if it takes a couple of weeks to get your results, it is unlikely that the cancer will change during this time.

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time, we have more information that can help.

Further tests after diagnosis

Whether you have any further tests will depend on the risk of the cancer growing quickly. Doctors work out your risk by looking at the PSA level, the stage, and the grade of the cancer.

To help diagnose or stage prostate cancer, you may have staging tests:

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Staging and grading of prostate cancer

The stage of a cancer describes its size and how far it has spread, based on your test results. A doctor decides the grade by how the cancer cells look under the microscope. Gleason score is the most commonly used grading system for prostate cancer. This gives an idea of how quickly the cancer might grow or spread.

You and your doctors can then talk about the best treatment choices for you.

Find out more about staging and grading of prostate cancer.

Treatment for prostate cancer

A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Your doctor will explain the different treatments and their side effects. They will also talk to you about the things you should consider when making treatment decisions.

Your treatment will depend on the stage of your cancer. You can read overviews of treatment options for:

Treatment may include one of the following:

  • Radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It can be given from outside the body (external beam radiotherapy) or given from inside the body (brachytherapy). There are different types of external beam radiotherapy. You usually have either conformal radiotherapy or intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT).

  • Surgery (open surgery, keyhole surgery)

    You may have surgery to remove the prostate. This is called a prostatectomy.

  • Hormonal therapy

    For hormonal therapy, you may have hormonal injections or hormonal tablets. You may have these on their own or with other treatments.

You may also have some treatments as part of a clinical trial.

Find out more about prostate cancer treatments.

After prostate cancer treatment

You will have regular follow-up appointments after treatment for prostate cancer.

You may get anxious between appointments. This is natural. It may help to get support from family, friends or a support organisation.

Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our prostate cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    European Association of Urologists. Guidelines on Prostate Cancer. 2016.

    European Society for Medical Oncology. Cancer of the prostate: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. 2015.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Prostate cancer overview. Available from: pathways.nice.org.uk/pathways/prostate-cancer (accessed from March 2017 to November 2017).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Surveillance report 2016. Prostate cancer: diagnosis and management (2014). NICE guideline CG175. 2016.



  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editors, Dr Jim Barber, Consultant Clinical Oncologist and Dr Lisa Pickering, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.


Reviewed: 31 January 2021
Reviewed: 31/01/2021
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Next review: 31 July 2018
Next review: 31/07/2018