What is the prostate?

Only men have a prostate gland. The prostate is usually the size and shape of a walnut. It lies underneath the bladder and surrounds the tube (the urethra) that men pass urine and semen through.

prostate gland diagram

The prostate gland's main job is to make some of the fluid that carries sperm, called semen

The three most common prostate problems are an enlarged prostate, prostatitis and prostate cancer.

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What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. Over 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Over 250,000 men are currently living with the disease.

Normally the growth of all cells is carefully controlled in the body. As cells die, they are replaced in an orderly fashion. Cancer can develop when cells start to grow in an uncontrolled way. If this happens in the prostate gland, prostate cancer can develop.

Prostate cancer often grows slowly and has a low risk of spreading, so it may never cause you any symptoms or problems in your lifetime. In other words, it’s often not life-threatening. Because of this, slow-growing prostate cancer might not need to be treated. You might be able to have your cancer monitored with regular check-ups instead.

But some men will have cancer that is faster growing and has a higher risk of spreading. This needs treatment to stop it spreading outside the prostate.

Signs and symptoms

This information comes from our booklet 'Know your prostate: a guide to common prostate problems'.

You can order printed publications about the prostate gland and prostate cancer from our publications page.

Prostate cancer can grow slowly or very quickly. Most prostate cancer is slow-growing to start with and may never cause any symptoms or problems in a man's lifetime. However, some men will have cancer that is more aggressive or 'high risk.' This needs treatment to help prevent or delay it spreading outside the prostate gland.

If a man does have symptoms, such as problems urinating, they might be mild and happen over many years. For some men the first noticeable symptoms are from prostate cancer which has spread to their bones. If this happens, you may notice pain in your back, hips or pelvis that was not there before. These symptoms could be caused by other problems such as general aches and pains or arthritis, but it is still a good idea to get them checked out by your GP if you are worried.

Most men with early prostate cancer do not have any symptoms.

Facts and figures

See and share our infographic on prostate cancer risk.

Below are some of the very basic facts and figures about prostate cancer.

Across the UK

  • Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men.
  • Over 42,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year – that's more than 110 men every day.
  • Every hour one man dies from prostate cancer – that's more than 10,500 men every year.
  • 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime.
  • Over 300,000 men are living with and after prostate cancer

In Scotland

  • More than 2,900 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in Scotland.
  • More than 880 men die from prostate cancer every year in Scotland.
  • Every day two men die from prostate cancer in Scotland.

In England

  • More than 36,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in England.
  • More than 9,000 men die from prostate cancer every year in England.
  • Every hour one man dies from prostate cancer in England.

In Wales

  • More than 2,600 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in Wales.
  • More than 500 men die every year from prostate cancer in Wales.

In Northern Ireland

  • More than 1,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in Northern Ireland.
  • More than 200 men die every year from prostate cancer in Northern Ireland.

Last updated: February 2015