Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is one of the leading cancers in men worldwide and in South Africa. Over 4 000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in South Africa every year and over 2 500 men lose the battle to prostate cancer each year. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are two famous South Africans diagnosed with prostate cancer.


The prostate is a male sex gland located near the bladder. It produces nutrients that enable the sperm to swim. Cancer occurs when abnormal cells multiply out of control and form a lump or tumour in the prostate gland. If left undetected, this cancer can then spread to other parts of the body.


  • Testosterone, the male hormone, does not cause prostate cancer but is known to feed its growth. Therefore some prostate cancer treatments are aimed at blocking the body’s production of testosterone.
  • Men over the age of 50 are at risk of prostate cancer and the risk increases with age. As studies into aging continue, scientists may find that the aging process produces biochemical reactions that contribute to abnormal cell growth. This is an area of intense research.
  • If a man’s father or an older sibling has had prostate cancer, he is at increased risk.
  • Scientists are looking at genes that may be responsible for inherited prostate cancer. The genes under investigation are called hereditary prostate cancer genes 1 and 2 (HPC1, HPC2) and HPCX. It is not yet known to what degree these genes are responsible for prostate cancer. It may be that genetically acquired prostate cancer develops differently than cancer from other causes, but more research into this theory is needed. Researchers are finding that genetic flaws are responsible for many cancers. Recent research has shown that a genetic defect may keep some men from developing a certain enzyme. This enzyme could mount a defense against cells vulnerable to cancer-causing agents in the environment.
  • Some studies have found that a diet high in animal fat may increase a man’s risk for developing prostate cancer, while a diet high in fruits and vegetables (especially tomato-based products) may decrease the risk.


Men over the age of 50 need to go for simple screening tests each year to check if they might have prostate cancer, which is the most common cancer among men, both in South Africa and globally. Prostate cancer usually occurs in men over 50 but, if your brother, uncle or father has prostate cancer, you should go for screening from the age of 40. (See the more detailed article on prevention of prostate cancer elsewhere on this Website.)

The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is a simple blood test that checks for the presence of a certain protein formed in the prostate gland that may indicate the presence of cancer. Treatment may include hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery. Doctors can also perform digital rectal examinations to check if the prostate has lumps or is an unusual size or shape.


Early warning signs of prostate cancer include:

  • Difficulty in passing urine
  • A frequent need to urinate, especially at night
  • Difficulty in starting and stopping the urinary stream.

Late warning signs include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • A painful or burning sensation when passing urine
  • Pain in the lower back, upper thighs or pelvic area.

If cancer is detected, you must go for treatment straight away. The earlier the cancer is detected and treated, the better the chances of a full recovery. One in 24 South African men will get prostate cancer in his lifetime, but most men will eventually die of other causes.

Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day if you want to know more about prostate cancer. Call us on the EWP number or email us at
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