Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men in the UK, with around 40,000 new diagnoses every year. It is also the second most common cause of deaths from cancer in men, claiming approximately 10,000 lives a year.
It has affected some famous names, including Sir Ian McKellan, Robert De Niro and Roger Moore, and even has a month dedicated to it (Movember, which aims to raise awareness and funds for male cancers). So what are the symptoms and treatment? When does your treatment become negligent and what are your legal rights if things go wrong?
Every man has one, but do you know that the prostate does? Chances are, probably not. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Prostate Cancer UK, 70% of men aged 45 and over didn’t know anything about what their prostate did or the symptoms of prostate cancer.
The prostate is a small gland (often compared to the size of a walnut) located between the bladder and the penis. Its purpose is to produce fluid that forms part of semen and protects it.
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The cause prostate cancer is unknown, however it is more common in men over 50 and in those of African or Afro-Caribbean descent. You are also more at risk if you have a family history of prostate or breast cancer.
Types of Prostate Cancer
90% of prostate cancers are called adenocarcinoma. This type of cancer usually grows slowly and does not spread.
According to Cancer Research UK, the remaining 10% of rarer cancers include:
- Ductal adenocarcinoma
- Transitional cell (or urothelial) cancer
- Squamous cell cancer
- Small cell cancer
- Sarcomas and sarcomatoid cancers
Prostate cancer in its early stages is unlikely to cause any symptoms. As it grows, the following symptoms are common:
- difficulty passing urine
- a need to pass urine suddenly
- a need to pass urine frequently
- a need to pass urine in the night
- blood in your urine or semen
- pain when passing urine
difficulty getting or maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction)
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There is no one single test to diagnose prostate cancer, however the following are regularly used:
- a blood test to check for the level of a protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA);
- a physical examination of your prostate (called a digital rectal examination (DRE);
- a biopsy of your prostate
The treatment provided will depend on the type of cancer and its severity as well as the patient’s age and heath. This can include:
- Monitoring: it’s not uncommon for doctors to simply keep the cancer under review and only provide treatment if and when it gets worse;
- Surgery – a radical prostatectomy: to remove the prostate gland (this is called)
- Surgery – TURP (Transurethral resection of the prostate): a metal wire is inserted into the urethra to relieve symptoms;
- Radiotherapy: to kill the cancerous cells;
- Hormone therapy: usually used alongside radiotherapy. Hormone therapy slows down the growth of the cancer and helps to manage symptoms;
- Ultrasound – HIFU (high-intensity focused ultrasound): cancer cells are destroyed by heat from high-intensity ultrasound energy
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Where can negligence occur?
Patients can suffer negligence either before or after they have been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
1. Delays in diagnosis:
- The symptoms of prostate cancer can often be mistaken for less significant conditions. Most of the symptoms relate to urinary difficulties, which are common in older men in any event. Necessary investigations are therefore not undertaken and, as a result, cancer can be missed.
- One way of diagnosing prostate cancer, is by testing blood for the levels of a protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). However this is not a test that is routinely undertaken, as the results are not always reliable. Specifically, raised PSA can be an indication of prostate cancer or other common conditions like a non-cancerous growth of the prostate or urinary tract infection. Therefore prostate cancer can be missed if it’s mistaken for another condition following this test.
- Prostate cancer can be easily missed if your doctor fails to appropriately perform a digital rectal examination or fails to properly read the results of the PSA blood test.
- Prostate cancer is sometimes monitored and treatment is not given until or unless it gets worse. However if this is not done appropriately, or sufficiently, it can have devastating consequences and allow the cancer to grow and spread. Alternatively, the decision not to treat prostate cancer in itself may be negligent.
- Whereas a blood test may help to diagnose prostate cancer, it cannot detect how advanced the cancer is and whether it’s life-threatening. This can result in either unnecessary tests and treatment or insufficient or inappropriate treatment, which may be negligent.
- Surgery always carries risk, but some mistakes are more than accepted complications and are negligent. This can include removing too much or too little or causing injuries to other organs.
- Radiotherapy and ultrasound treatment is designed to kill cancerous cells, however excessive doses or treating unaffected areas can cause significant injury.
The Law: Your Rights
If you have suffered an injury due to unacceptable and inappropriate treatment, you may have a claim for medical negligence. The purpose of a claim will be financial compensation – to try to put you back in the position you would have been in if you had not suffered negligence. This will include compensation for the pain and suffering you went through and for any financial losses due to the negligence.
If we can help you, our solicitors will work with you and a team of medical and legal experts to obtain the necessary evidence to win your case. We will also seek to refer.
We understand that dealing with prostate cancer will be a sensitive and difficult time, and that suffering negligence can be a considerable setback. Our solicitors will do everything we can to take the pressure off you so you can focus on your health. We do this by providing all our clients with access to practical support services, to help them cope both physically and emotionally with their daily lives.
There are also charities which provide vital support and information for patients suffering prostate cancer. Orchid is the UK’s leading charity for those affected by male cancers, including prostate cancer. They provide help support and education and can be contacted by clicking here.