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PARIS, Dec 15 (AFP) - Prostate cancer, for which US Secretary of State Colin Powell underwent surgery Monday, is the male equivalent of ovarian cancer in women as a "silent killer" -- a tumour that all too often goes undetected and spreads through the body.
Cancer of the prostate is the commonest form of tumour in developed countries and the second biggest cancer killer.
It claims between 30,000 and 40,000 lives in the United States per year, according to official figures. In Britain, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with the disease is seven percent.
The prostate is a small doughnut-shaped gland found in men, located beneath the bladder, which produces fluid that mixes with the sperm when men ejaculate.
Cancer of this organ is an age-related disease: it is very rare in men aged under 50, and the risk rises significantly in the sixties and beyond. Half of the detected cases are found in men aged over 75. Powell is 66.
Prostate cancer is eminently curable, often by surgery in which the whole organ is removed, or by radiotherapy and hormone treatment.
The problem though, is ensuring that the cancer is diagnosed quickly enough.
The typical symptoms are having to rush to the toilet to pass urine, and finding it difficult or painful to urinate. Those symptoms are similar to a common urination problem, called BPH, among older men.
For that reason, men over 60 are advised to have regular tests, the most typical of which is a rectal examination by a doctor to feel whether the gland is enlarged, a sign that it is cancerous.
There is also a blood test for the presence of prostate specific antigen (PSA), and finally there is an invasive method, taking a tiny sample of tissue from the gland with a probe inserted through the anus, and testing this to see whether it is cancerous.
Survivability after prostate treatment is high. On average, patients survive at least 10 years after treatment.
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