Cancer Council Australia

Join our network

Facebook Twitter Instagram
Pinterest Youtube RSS

Larger Text Smaller Text Print

Prostate cancer

Download PDF

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer develops when abnormal cells in the prostate gland grow more quickly than in a normal prostate, forming a malignant tumour.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in men in Australia1 and the third most common cause of cancer death. One in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer by the age of 85. It is more common in older men, with 63% of cases diagnosed in men over 65 years of age.

In 2015, 18,878 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed in Australia. 

Early (localised) prostate cancer refers to cancer cells that have grown but do not appear to have spread beyond the prostate.

There are two stages of advanced prostate cancer:

  • locally advanced prostate cancer where the cancer has spread outside the prostate to nearby parts of the body or glands close to the prostate
  • metastatic prostate cancer where the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

In 2016, there were 3248 deaths caused by prostate cancer.

The five year survival rate for prostate cancer is 95%.

Learn more about how Cancer Council researchers are tackling bowel cancer on a national scale.

Prostate cancer symptoms

The symptoms can include:

  • frequent urination, particularly at night
  • pain on urination
  • blood in the urine or semen
  • a weak stream
  • pain the back or pelvis.

More widespread disease often spreads to the bones and gives pain or unexplained weight loss and fatigue.

Find out more about prostate cancer symptoms


Causes of prostate cancer

Some factors that can increase your risk of prostate cancer include:

  • age, increasing rapidly after 50 years of age
  • family history of prostate, breast or ovarian cancer
  • a diet high in fats and low in fresh fruit and vegetables
  • there is an association with high testosterone levels.

Screening for prostate cancer

There are no tests available with sufficient accuracy to screen populations of men for early signs of prostate cancer. However, early detection and treatment can significantly improve prostate cancer survival.

The test most commonly used to aid early detection of prostate cancer is the prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test. This is not a diagnostic test as it can only indicate changes in the prostate. If you are concerned about prostate cancer you should talk to your doctor and make an informed choice about whether to have one of the tests designed to find early signs of prostate cancer, in view of the potential risks and benefits.

For more information see our page on early detection of prostate cancer.


Diagnosis for prostate cancer

If your doctor suspects you may have prostate cancer, you may have one or more of the following tests:

PSA blood test

A prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test measures the PSA levels, the proteins made by both normal and cancerous prostate cells. Because PSA levels can be variable, it is common for your doctor to use results from more than one blood test, over time, to help determine your risk of prostate cancer.

Some men with prostate cancer have normal PSA levels, and only one in three men with an elevated PSA level has cancer. As it is not a definitive test, a PSA test is normally used with other tests to diagnose prostate cancer.

There is a lot of confusion around PSA testing. Click here for more information


A biopsy removes small pieces of tissue from different parts of the prostate with the aid of a rectal ultrasound, for examination under microscope. It is used to detect the disease and determine its aggressiveness (the Gleason score of 1-5 is added from two samples to form a score out of 10; low scores of 6 or less, indicate slow growing disease).

Further tests

If cancer is detected in your prostate, you may have other tests such as MRI, CT or bone scans to see if the disease is contained to the prostate or to help with management and treatment options.

Digital rectal examination

DRE is no longer recommended as a routine test for men who do not have symptoms of prostate cancer. It is still useful for men who want to be tested for the presence of prostate cancer.


Treatment for prostate cancer

Treatment depends on the extent of the cancer.


The staging system used for prostate cancer is the TNM system, which describes the stage of the cancer from stage I to stage IV. Ninety per cent of patients present with local disease. Bone and CT scans are used to determine spread.

Active surveillance

Active surveillance monitors prostate cancer that is not causing symptoms and is considered low risk (ie cancer is small and slow growing and unlikely to spread). Generally active surveillance involves PSA tests every 3-6 months, rectal examination every 6 months and MRI scans and biopsies at 12 months and 3 years.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is another form of monitoring prostate cancer that involves regular PSA tests and check-ups. Watchful waiting can be suitable for older men where the cancer is not likely to cause a problem in their lifetime.


Surgery with curative intent removes the whole prostate (radical prostatectomy). The main side-effects may include impotence and incontinence.


Radical radiotherapy can also be given with curative intent, either with external radiation or by implanting radioactive seeds (brachytherapy). Side-effects are similar to surgery, however bowel problems may also occur.

Androgen deprivation therapy (hormone therapy)

Some cancers need certain hormones to grow. Prostate cancer needs testosterone. Androgen deprivation therapy or ADT (once called hormone therapy) is used to slow the production of testosterone. ADT is often used before, during and after radiotherapy and is sometimes given with chemotherapy.

ADT can be given with injections or in tablet form. Surgery to remove part or all of the testicles may be preferable in some cases.

Treatment team

Depending on your treatment, your treatment team may consist of a number of different health staff, such as:

  • a GP who looks after your general health and treatment
  • a urologist
  • a radiation oncologist
  • a radiation therapist
  • a medical oncologist
  • a cancer care coordinator or urology care coordinator
  • nurses
  • continence nurse
  • sexual health physician or therapist
  • other allied health professionals, such as counsellors and continence physiotherapists.

Palliative care

In some cases of prostate cancer, your medical team may talk to you about palliative care. Palliative care aims to improve your quality of life by alleviating symptoms of cancer.

As well as slowing the spread of prostate cancer, palliative treatment can relieve pain and help manage other symptoms. Treatment may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other drug therapies.


Prognosis for prostate cancer

It is not possible for a doctor to predict the exact course of a disease, as it will depend on each person's individual circumstances. However, your doctor may give you a prognosis, the likely outcome of the disease, based on the type of prostate cancer you have, the test results, the rate of tumour growth, as well as your age, fitness and medical history.

Preventing prostate cancer

There are no proven measures to prevent prostate cancer.


Understanding Prostate Cancer, Cancer Council Australia  ©2018. Last medical review of this booklet: March 2018.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality (ACIM) books: Prostate cancer. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2017. Cancer in Australia 2017. Cancer series no. 101. Cat. no. CAN 100. Canberra: AIHW.

1) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Cancer in Australia: an overview 2017. Cancer series no 101. Cat. No. CAN 100. Canberra: AIHW.


For more information


Includes additional information on treatment, making decisions around treatment and managing side effects of treatment.

Also included, detailed information on looking after yourself during and after treatment, and links to both professional and community support.

How you can help

You can support Cancer Council by:

  • volunteering your time
  • participating in an event or
  • making a donation to help fund our cancer research, education and support services.

This page was last updated on: Monday, May 18, 2020

Web design Code and Visual