Prostate health and coronavirus – risks, concerns and things you need to know
Below is some information about coronavirus (COVID-19) for people who have, or have had, prostate cancer and their loved ones, and for people who are worried they may have prostate cancer. Developed by Dr David Bottomley, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Nova Healthcare, this FAQ aims to answer some of the common questions around these topics may have.
What is prostate cancer?
Cancer of the prostate is a condition in which cells originating from the prostate gland undergo a mutation, which allows them to grow uncontrollably. It is most common cancer in men with around 40,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
The causes of the cancer are largely unknown, but the chances of developing the cancer increase as you get older. Most cases develop in men aged 50 or over – but thankfully many prostate cancers grow at a very slow rate.
For reasons not yet understood, prostate cancer is more common in men of African-Caribbean or African descent, and less common in Asian men. Recent research also suggests that obesity increases the risk of prostate cancer.
I’m worried I might have prostate cancer – can I see a GP?
Common cancer symptoms include passing urine more frequently than usual (especially at night), needing to rush to the toilet to pass urine, the feeling of not completely emptying your bladder and straining or taking a long time while urinating.
While these symptoms are likely to be caused by a non-cancerous problem, if you are experiencing any changes in your toilet habits, it’s a good idea to see your GP. They will help find out what is causing them.
It’s important to note that prostate cancer in its early stages does not show symptoms. Therefore it is quite acceptable for men aged 50 and above to ask their GP for a prostate cancer test. This generally involves having a blood test to measure prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and, if this is elevated above the normal range for the man’s age, then further investigations might be recommended.
GP surgeries have remained open during the coronavirus pandemic, but may be operating in a slightly different way. Your initial consultation may be done over the phone or video call – but this is still important. The NHS’s advice throughout the pandemic has been clear: do not delay in seeking medical advice if you need it.
Does my prostate cancer treatment make me more likely to catch coronavirus?
Most prostate cancer treatments do not increase susceptibility to the coronavirus or any other viral infections. It also won’t increase your risk of severe illness if you do catch coronavirus.
The exception would be if chemotherapy were being received or if steroids were required as part of the treatment for prostate cancer.
While everyone needs to be careful to avoid getting the virus, it’s particularly important for people:
- aged 70 or over
- who have a long-term health problem, for example with your lungs or heart, or a weak immune system
- who are having treatment that puts them at increased risk of infections.
Will I have my prostate cancer treatment as planned?
In an historic agreement during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, independent hospitals such as Nova Healthcare teamed up with the NHS to help tackle the coronavirus. This allowed the bulk of essential and urgent cancer treatments during the coronavirus outbreak to continue, with services now almost back to normal.
Despite this, it’s been concerning to read that prostate cancer referrals have halved since the beginning of lockdown, according to Prostate Cancer UK. At Nova, we adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment and are able to offer patients a range of innovative treatment options for prostate cancer including chemotherapy, targeted and hormonal therapies, brachytherapy, radiotherapy and robot-assisted prostate surgery.
I’m receiving treatment for prostate cancer and have symptoms of the virus. What do I do?
In the first instance, follow the government’s guidelines if you develop symptoms of the virus. The main symptoms are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. If you have any of these symptoms, get a test to check if you have the virus. It is very important that you stay at home and do not have visitors until you get your test result. In addition, always contact your medical team at the hospital straight away if you have signs of any infection, even if they are only mild.
If you are receiving treatment for prostate cancer and experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, inform your prostate cancer specialist who will advise the appropriate action.
If you’re having chemotherapy, you should have a number to call at the hospital if you have any signs of an infection. Call this number if you’re worried you may have coronavirus or any other type of infection. Read about the possible signs of an infection and what to do.
It’s very important to follow the government’s guidance on social distancing to help prevent getting the virus.
About Dr David Bottomley
Dr David Bottomley is a Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Nova Healthcare.
He is one of the country’s leading experts in the delivery of prostate seed brachytherapy, having pioneered the development of this treatment in the UK. He is also highly experienced in the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer using chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, as well as in the non-surgical treatment of bladder cancers. He is actively involved in both teaching and clinical research and has been the principle and chief investigator for many national and international studies and clinical trials.
Read more about Dr Bottomley and book an appointment here.