You might go to see your GP because you're worried about prostate cancer. This might be because you know someone with it or have heard about prostate cancer or the PSA test in the news.
Or you might have some symptoms, such as difficulty passing urine. But it's important to remember that most prostate cancers don't cause symptoms and it is more likely that any symptoms you have are due to other causes.
Getting the most out of your GP appointment
When you see the doctor, it can be difficult to remember everything you want to say. These tips will help you get the most out of your appointment.
- Write down your symptoms including when they started, when they happen and how often you have them.
- Write down if anything makes them worse or better.
- Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer in particular.
- Tell them if you have any family history of cancer.
- Take a friend or relative along for support - they could also ask questions and help you remember what the GP says.
- Ask the GP to explain anything you don’t understand.
- Ask the GP to write things down for you if you think it might help.
It can be useful if you find out before your appointment whether any of your family members have had breast or prostate cancer.
What happens during your GP appointment
Your doctor needs to build up a picture of what's going on. So they will ask you some questions. These include:
- what symptoms you have
- when you get them
- whether anything makes them better or worse
They will ask you about your general health and any other medical conditions you have. They might arrange for you to have some tests.
Your doctor might carry out some general checks on your blood pressure, heart rate and temperature.
PSA blood test
PSA is a protein produced by both normal and cancerous prostate cells. It's normal for all men to have some PSA in their blood. A high level of PSA can be a sign of cancer. But a high PSA can also be because of other conditions that aren't cancer, or due to infection.
A PSA test on its own doesn't normally diagnose prostate cancer. Men over 50 can ask their doctor for a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test. The PSA test can be unreliable. Your GP will discuss the risk and benefits with you.
Examination of your prostate
When your doctor examines you it might include feeling your prostate gland. To do this your doctor puts a gloved finger into your back passage (rectum) to check for abnormal signs, such as a lumpy, hard prostate. Doctors call this test a digital rectal examination (DRE).
It's normal to feel a bit anxious about this test and it might be uncomfortable. But it usually only takes a few minutes.
Questions you might want to ask your GP
- Do I need to see a specialist? Is it urgent?
- When will I see them?
- Where will I see them?
- Will I find out about my appointments by post or telephone?
- Do I need tests? What will they involve?
- How long should I expect to wait?
- Where can I find out more about tests?
- Do I have to do anything in preparation for this test?
- When will I get the results and who will tell me?
Your GP might not be able to answer all of your questions. They will tell you what they can at this point. Not knowing is difficult to cope with and can make you anxious.
If they don't think you need any tests or a referral
- Can you explain why I don’t need to have tests or see a specialist?
- Is there anything I can do to help myself?
- Do I need to see you again?
- Who do I contact if my symptoms continue or get worse, especially during the night or at weekends?
- I've been reading about prostate cancer and wish to have a PSA test – can you explain why I don’t need one?
What happens next
Make sure you know what happens next. Make another appointment if your symptoms don’t clear up, or if they change or get worse.
How to find a GP
If you don’t have a GP, you can find a doctor’s surgery in your local area by going to:
Making a GP appointment
You can book an appointment online at most GP surgeries. Or you can telephone them or go in person. You don’t have to tell the receptionist what you want to see the doctor for, although sometimes it might help to explain your situation.
Try different times of the day if it's difficult to get through by phone. It could be particularly busy at the beginning of the day. Your surgery might have a clinic you can turn up to and wait to see a doctor. You might have to wait a long time but you’ll see a doctor that day.
If it’s difficult to get to the surgery, check whether your practice has telephone appointments with a doctor or nurse practitioner. They’ll tell you if you need to go in to see them at the surgery.
Accept a booked appointment, even if you think it’s a long time to wait. You could ask about cancellations if you are able to get to the practice at short notice.