According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), the number one type of cancer that affects men in South Africa is prostate cancer, with a widely-accepted estimate that one in 19 South African men will develop it. Colorectal cancer comes in second, with an estimated 1 in 79 men expected to suffer from it, whilst lung cancer is third, with an estimated 1 in 80 men developing it.

These statistics might strike you with fear but living a full life with prostate cancer is possible and, especially when detected early, has a survival rate as high as 98%. Prostate cancer occurs in the prostate, a gland located within a man’s reproductive system.

Part of the reason why prostate cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer among South African men is that its symptoms tend to show up at an advanced stage of the cancer. Nevertheless, prostate cancer is preventable and in some cases also treatable. Understanding the disease, its symptoms and its treatment options are the first steps towards becoming proactive about your prostate’s health.

Symptoms of prostate cancer include frequent urination or straining to pass urine, bloody urine or semen, and in some cases, deep pain in one’s lower back, upper thighs or hips. Prognosis and treatment of prostate cancer can also vary depending on one’s age and how advanced the cancer is. One’s family history, race and age also play a key role in determining the level of risk of developing prostate cancer.

The best method of prevention and early detection is prostate cancer screening. This is done through a blood test called the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which helps to detect prostate abnormalities in the blood. It is also important to note that the PSA test is specific to prostate cancer, and not a test for other types of cancer. Another means of screening is through a Digital Rectal Examination (DRE).

One of the biggest misconceptions about prostate cancer is that it is purely an older man’s disease, or that this type of cancer is not detrimental to one’s health. These are all myths.

Many also tend to assume that prostate cancer is another name for testicular cancer, but this is also incorrect, and it is important that one consults their medical doctor to understand what part of a man’s reproductive anatomy these respective cancers affect.

Making healthier lifestyle choices, which include a healthy and balanced diet and frequent exercise, are the key to preventing the development of prostate cancer. According to CANSA, high alcohol intake, smoking and the use of steroids are all linked to the increased risk of developing prostate cancer, and therefore need to be eliminated to significantly lower the risk of developing prostate cancer.

In South Africa, prostate cancer awareness has been on the increase in recent years, with non-profit organisations such as the Men’s Foundation of South Africa spearheading the country’s Movember campaign every November. Movember is a well-known international campaign that encourages men to grow a moustache throughout the month of November; to raise awareness and get tested for testicular and prostate cancer. The campaign has gained solid ground in South Africa over the years. Such awareness campaigns are essential to ending the fear, lack of understanding and shame associated with prostate cancer, and to inform men that a full life is still likely despite a prostate cancer diagnosis.

Living well with prostate cancer is indeed possible, and due to the various available treatment options from world-class South African healthcare specialists, even probable. Annual screening of prostate cancer is nevertheless encouraged for all men, and in particular, those who have a family history of prostate cancer or are in their mid-40s and older. One small check with the doctor can make a big difference.