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King Charles III's health issues lead to questions about enlarged prostate, cancer

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King Charles III's recent unprecedented public disclosures of his treatments for an enlarged prostate and cancer have led to increased interest in the conditions.

Buckingham Palace announced in late January that King Charles, 75, was hospitalized and treated for an enlarged prostate.

This week, the palace said the King has also been diagnosed with "a form of cancer," which doctors discovered while he was undergoing tests for his enlarged prostate. It did not say what type of cancer he has, noting that the cancer is a "separate issue" from the enlarged prostate and not prostate cancer. It said the King was stepping back from "public-facing duties" as he underwent regular cancer treatments as an outpatient.

The palace said the king disclosed details of his condition because he wanted to increase awareness about the conditions and prevent speculation.

Dr. Hon Leong, an associate professor at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, said it's "a blessing in disguise" to find cancer early and treat it.

"You can imagine, if it was not caught early enough, that this cancer, whatever type it may be, could have continued growing unnoticed," Leong said in an email to CTVNews.ca. "That tumour likely would have become even more deadly, potentially leading to a more grim outlook for the King."

In light of the increased interest in both health conditions, CTVNews.ca gathered information on symptoms and prevention.

Symptoms of an enlarged prostate

An enlarged prostate is a common condition for men as they grow older, particularly those over age 50. It’s also difficult to prevent, doctors say.

Dr. Dean Elterman, urologic surgeon at the University Health Network in Toronto, said prostate enlargement, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is different from prostate cancer and typically does not become cancerous.

The prostate is a doughnut-shaped gland, with a tube through which urine travels, that sits below the bladder. A normal-sized prostate is the size of a walnut, but as men get older, it starts to grow because of factors such as genetics and hormones.

The prostate growth for some men narrows the urethra or the tube that brings urine from the bladder to the tip of the penis, obstructing the flow of urine, said Dr. Connor Forbes, assistant professor and urologic surgeon at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Doctors say symptoms can include frequently urinating, a feeling that the bladder isn't completely emptying, a weak flow of urine that stops and starts, straining to urinate, a bleeding prostate that will show up in the urine, waiting a long time to urinate and waking up at night to urinate.

"This can be very bothersome. And if untreated, (it) can sometimes progress to causing harm to the kidneys, urinary infections, urinary stones in the bladder, or a complete inability to urinate requiring a catheter placement in the urethra," Forbes said in an email to CTVNews.ca.

Treating enlarged prostates

People can avoid foods and beverages that irritate the bladder, such as coffee, tea, spicy foods, citrus, alcohol and artificial sweeteners, to help relieve symptoms, Forbes said.

People can reduce frequent urination at night by decreasing their fluid intake for one to two hours before bedtime and urinating twice before bed, he added. Forbes says many over-the-counter remedies have so far not demonstrated their effectiveness.

Doctors say medications and procedures can also reduce the size of the prostate and improve urine flow.

Elterman said some patients choose not to take medicines because the medicine may become less effective over time or does not improve their symptoms.

Symptoms can also be alleviated through traditional surgery, but that requires a hospital stay and may pose risks, Elterman said.

Some may opt for newer and more advanced procedures, which may be less invasive and allow them to recover more quickly and avoid possible complications and side effects, he added.

Ways to reduce cancer risk

Dr. Keith Stewart, director of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, said there are ways people can reduce their risk of getting various types of cancers. He emphasized that getting screened for cancers is important.

"It's a good thing that (King Charles III) went public with his diagnosis. It helps destigmatize a cancer diagnosis and gets people talking about it," Stewart said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

Stewart notes 40 per cent of Canadians will develop cancer. "It also highlights the benefits of early intervention," he said. "Finding cancers early can result in more cures of the cancer."

Statistics suggest that about 80 to 90 per cent of early cancers can be cured, but once cancers become advanced and spread, it's a far lower percentage, Stewart noted.

As well, he advises people to avoid smoking, getting sunburned and consuming excess alcohol.

To prevent cancer, he also encourages vaccinations against human papilloma virus (HPV) and hepatitis B. The qualifying mammography age limit in Ontario will be dropping from 50 to 40 later this year so more women can be screened, he added.

Elterman recommends that men around the ages of 50 to 70 see a family doctor to possibly have a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, which can help detect prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate. "So the most important thing would be have a conversation with your doctor about possible early detection of cancers, like prostate cancer."

Lifestyle changes

Most prostate cancers don't have symptoms and are detected purely based upon an elevation in PSA, Elterman explained.

"This (PSA test) should be done over a series of time to determine if there are any changes or rises in the PSA reading, which would be an indication potentially of there being prostate cancer," Elterman added.

However, he said late-stage prostate cancers can cause rare symptoms, such as obstruction in urinary flow, pain in bones and weight loss.

Leong advises people to always consider seeing their doctor for any health-related issues.

"In the UK and in Canada, we have universal health care and we should take full advantage of it," he said. "It's better to find these things now rather when it's too late."

Some lifestyle changes may help reduce the rates of cancer, such as any kind of regular exercise and a diet consisting of vegetables and without processed foods, Leong said.

"Avoiding processed foods and focusing on vegetables is a great way to start because that will lower chances of co-morbidities such as obesity and diabetes which leads to a higher chance of cancer," he said.

"Cancer is the result of genetic mutations in a cell that cause it to grow uncontrollably, so there are many factors out of our control but knowing these risks by educating yourself and being proactive will help lead to better outcomes for patients," Leong explained.

With files from The Associated Press

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