Did you know that 1 in 7 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime? After skin cancer, it’s the second most common form of cancer in men.
Don’t let these statistics scare you. Prostate cancer is highly treatable and with today’s modern treatments, the survival rate is over 96%. Your doctor will likely recommend routine screening starting at age 50, or earlier if you have a family history of prostate cancer. A simple blood test is all that’s needed for early prostate cancer screening.
Still, you may be wondering, “What are the early signs I should look out for?”
In this article, we cover 11 early warning signs that you could potentially have prostate cancer. Here’s what to watch out for.
1. Urinary Obstruction
Urinary obstruction is the inability to urinate.
This can range in severity from being unable to fully empty your bladder to urine only coming out in a “dribble,” or even not being able to urinate at all.
If you cannot pass any urine, this may not mean prostate cancer, but it is a medical emergency. Seek medical attention immediately or go to your nearest hospital.
For less severe cases, this still indicates an obstruction of some sort. This can be caused by a kidney or bladder issue, stones or a blockage from a foreign object.
It can also indicate an enlarged prostate, which is a separate condition from prostate cancer, but still requires medical treatment.
This graphic depicts a normal prostate compared to an enlarged one. As you can see, the enlarged prostate is compressing the urethra so tightly that it is greatly reducing or stopping the flow of urine.
2. Urinating Frequently at Night
As we get older, it’s common to have to get up during the night to use the washroom. This is called nocturia and can be completely normal.
However, if you notice a sudden change in how frequently you have to get up during the night, consult your doctor.
For example, if you used to sleep through the night but now have to get up at least once every night, it could just be a sign of aging or it could be something more.
If you have to get up to urinate more than twice a night, or experience changes in your usual pattern, a prostate rectal exam could be helpful. Get a check-up right away. This could be an indication of an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer.
3. Urinating Frequently During the Day
It may be more difficult to notice a change in frequency during the day than at night. Most of us don’t go around counting how many times we use the washroom in a given day!
Besides, what’s normal, anyway?
Normal urination during the day is considered to be within a range of four to seven times for most healthy adult men. If you’re going more often than this, it could indicate a prostate issue.
It can be easy to miss this sign. Drinking more water or caffeinated beverages than usual can be an easy explanation for a few extra trips.
Even a night out for dinner with a few more glasses of beer than usual can cause several extra trips to the bathroom because alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it triggers an increase in urine production.
But like your nighttime routine, if you notice an ongoing pattern of having to go more often during the day, ask your doctor about it. A simple blood test and rectal examination is often the first diagnostic step, which is quick and painless.
4. Odour on Underwear
If you notice the odour of urine on your underwear at the end of the day, this is a sign of what’s called “overflow dribbling.”
Your bladder leaks urine because it’s too full, but you don’t feel any urge to go or even awareness the leakage is happening.
This can be embarrassing, especially if you’re not sure when it could happen and are concerned about others noticing the odour. Overflow dribbling accounts for 10-15% of all cases of urinary incontinence, so if this is happening to you, you definitely aren’t alone.
Most often, dribbling happens because of a blockage, which can indicate either an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer.
It’s important not to write this symptom off as “just getting older.” It is serious and should always be checked out by a doctor.
5. Blood in the Urine
Having any amount of blood in your urine, no matter how small, is always a serious symptom. It may not be due to prostate cancer, but it must always be examined.
If you notice blood in your urine at any time, even just once, seek immediate medical attention. Blood in urine can look either pink, red or dark brown coloured.
Source: Durward Black
Don’t panic and think the worst right away. It could mean something small, such as a bladder or kidney infection, which is easily treatable with a round of antibiotics. It could also be an indication of bladder or prostate cancer.
Your doctor will take a blood and urine test as a first step to diagnose an infection, and may send you for additional tests if they suspect something more serious.
Once again, there is no normal amount of blood in urine! There are many non-life-threatening reasons for it, but it’s better to err on the safe side and get it checked out.
6. Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is an easy prostate cancer symptom to miss. Many men experience lower back pain, either due to an injury or other condition like arthritis, a ruptured disk or osteoporosis.
On its own, back pain isn’t something to be overly concerned about. But if you have lower back pain combined with any of the other symptoms on this list, schedule a visit with your family doctor.
Studies have found lower back pain is linked to metastatic prostate cancer, meaning it has spread to the bones in the back.
In a 2013 study, men who reported back pain had a five times greater incidence of prostate cancer versus the men who did not experience lower back pain.
Prostate cancer is not the number one cause of back pain, but a routine checkup can put your mind at ease.
7. Thigh Pain
Having pain in your upper or inner thighs can also be a symptom of prostate cancer.
It’s usually described as a dull, deep pain that may feel like it’s coming from deep inside, like from your bones or deep within muscle tissue.
This isn’t pain that happens occasionally. It is constant and won’t go away.
Source: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
8. Hip Pain
Like back and thigh pain, hip pain is just as easy to write off as an injury. However, you should see a doctor right away if you experience hip pain lasting more than a few days, especially if it’s combined with back, thigh or pelvic pain.
Typically, pain in these areas indicates an advanced prostate cancer that has spread to the bones or elsewhere in the body.
If you feel this is you, or if you have recently been diagnosed, don’t give up hope. There are many effective treatments for prostate cancer at every stage.
9. Pelvic Pain
As with any of the joint or back pain symptoms listed above, any amount of prolonged pain in the pelvic region should be investigated by a physician as quickly as possible.
Pelvic pain in men can be acutely painful and sharp, or dull and feel like a lot of pressure is being put on your abdomen or groin area.
Prostate cancer is not the only possibility. In many cases, pelvic pain can be caused by inflammation or an infection, such as a urinary tract or kidney infection.
Cancer or not, pelvic pain isn’t something to ignore. Get a checkup and, if recommended by your doctor, a PSA screening test to check your prostate health.
10. Pain When Urinating
It should never hurt to urinate!
Painful urination is another serious symptom that always needs to be examined, but may not always point to prostate cancer.
In most cases, painful urination in men indicates a bladder or (UTI) urinary tract infection, which is easily detected with a urine test and treated with antibiotics. Kidney or bladder stones are another possibility and are also easily treatable.
You may also feel an increased urge to use the washroom, even if your bladder isn’t full or you just went. This is a telltale sign of a UTI. UTIs are uncommon in men and do require a medical investigation, even though they are easy to treat.
Even if this is the only symptom you have from this list, make a doctor’s appointment right away. If the pain is sudden or severe, go to your closest hospital emergency room, as you may have a blockage that needs to be removed.
11. High Screening PSA
PSA stands for “Prostate Specific Antigens,” which is a protein produced in your prostate. All men have small levels of this antigen in their blood, but elevated levels of it could indicate prostate cancer.
But not always!
Men who have high levels of free PSA typically do not have prostate cancer, although additional screening is required to confirm this without a doubt.
It’s important to not use a PSA test result as a diagnosis on its own.
Your doctor will likely tell you as well that there are many causes of elevated PSA besides prostate cancer. Common benign causes of prostate cancer are an enlarged prostate or inflammation.
A single PSA test result does not mean you have a certain condition. It’s a way to monitor overall prostate health.
Men age 50 and older may get PSA screening tests as part of their routine checkups. A blood test is all that’s needed to check your PSA levels. In men with risk factors for prostate cancer, or suspected prostate cancer, a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) is also required to form a complete assessment.
Ask your doctor if you should get a PSA test. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but it could end up saving your life.
Having one, or even all, of these symptoms doesn’t automatically mean you have prostate cancer. Only a trained physician can make an accurate diagnosis for you.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are concerned about the possibility you could have prostate cancer, make an appointment with your family doctor for an exam right away.
Prostate cancer is highly treatable when caught early which is why it’s so important to know these early symptoms and take action when you see them. The five year survival rate is high, so the rewards of early diagnosis can be great.
Remember: the first step is often just an easy blood test and a rectal examination, so there’s no reason not to schedule a checkup to put your worries aside.
If you are also dealing with any degree of urinary incontinence, either mild or severe, look into what the Pacey Cuff™