A diagnosis of prostate cancer, the most common cancer affecting men in the UK, can be a terrible shock.
More than 37,000 men are diagnosed with this disease every year and 250,000 are living with it.
Dr Thomas Stuttaford, vice president of The Prostate Cancer Charity and patron of the Prostate Cancer Support Federation, discusses his own experience of prostate cancer and offers encouragement to other men with the condition.
After being diagnosed 14 years ago, Dr Stuttaford underwent immediate surgery and made a full recovery. Now, he still leads an active life, working as a journalist and speaking publicly for charity.
During Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, he wants to encourage other men into becoming more aware of prostate health and taking a more proactive approach to any problems.
Where is a man’s prostate and what does it do?
‘Only men have a prostate. It’s a walnut-sized gland situated just below the bladder between the root of the penis and the anus. Its role is to make seminal fluid, which is mixed with sperm to make semen.
Cancer can develop when cells in the prostate gland grow in an uncontrolled way.’
How did you find out you had prostate cancer?
‘You shouldn’t wait until you have symptoms of prostate cancer because this can be too long.
‘After my elder brother William was diagnosed I had a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, which picked up my cancer. Several men in my family, including my father and two uncles had developed this disease.
‘Two-thirds of men at a raised risk of prostate cancer are unaware of the PSA test – a blood test measuring the level of a protein called PSA, produced in the prostate gland and found in small amounts in the blood.
‘If, like me, you have a close relative who has had prostate cancer, it’s advisable to request a PSA test if you are over 45.’
Does a raised PSA always indicate cancer?
‘Don’t panic if you’re told that you have a raised PSA level because this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cancer – in fact three out of four men with this turn out to have other problems.
‘In fact, my PSA result was relatively low. But my Gleason score, which indicated my cancer’s malignancy, was dangerously high.
‘Ultrasound and biopsy then confirmed that I had two cancers growing in my prostate – one in each lobe and much of the rest of the tissue in my prostate was pre-malignant (PIN).
‘I opted to have immediate surgery followed by radiotherapy.’
Have treatments changed much since then?
‘A radical prostatectomy was the only surgical option for my advanced cancer years ago; treatments like brachytherapy and robot assisted prostatectomies are widely used now.
‘Techniques in surgery have been revolutionised with the advent of keyhole surgery and nerve sparing technique, resulting in better outcomes for patients.
‘External beam radiotherapy (EBRT), then in development, is now more precise, computer-controlled and offers results comparable to surgery. However I wouldn’t recommend it for advanced prostate cancer.
‘High-intensity focused ultrasound to destroy tumours is now offered in a few hospitals.’
Do modern techniques mean men have a better chance or maintaining their potency?
‘Increasing numbers of younger men are being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and over half who today have a radical prostatectomy can retain potency – the younger you are the better your chances.
‘Although my sex life was affected by surgery, I don’t regret it. As a doctor I realised that my life expectancy would have been around three to four years and that I would have been very ill for around half this time.
‘If you’re feeling gloomy at the prospect of treatment for prostate cancer – remember that there’s no sex in the grave.’
Can you still live a rich life with cancer?
‘I wrote my first piece for The Times on the day I came out of intensive care – within 48 hours of surgery, propped up my hospital bed.
‘Although my surgery was successful, as had been predicted, I suffered a recurrence of the cancer about six years later.
‘I was then treated with radiation and hormone treatment and neither made any difference to my quality of life.
‘I went for radiation treatment at 8.30am, saw my own NHS and private patients from 9am to 1pm, continued to write for The Times and went to lectures and parties in the evenings. I still have hormone treatment.’
Do you take more care to be healthy now?
‘I take a brisk half-an-hour walk and try to eat five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially tomatoes, every day.
‘I take a multivitamin, containing selenium and the supplement Lyc-O-mato, as there has been research showing that lycopene, the powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, can help prevent and fight prostate cancer.
‘I feel fortunate to have celebrated my 50th wedding anniversary and still be playing with my four grandchildren.’