Symptoms of prostate cancer

Prostate cancer does not usually cause symptoms in the early stages. Most prostate cancers start in the outer part of the prostate gland. This means that to cause symptoms, the cancer needs to be big enough to press on the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the penis. This is called urethra.

Diagram showing prostate cancer pressing on the urethra

Urinary symptoms such as difficulty passing urine are rarely caused by prostate cancer. They are much more likely to be caused by a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

If prostate cancer has already spread to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic prostate cancer), it can cause symptoms such as:

  • back or bone pain that doesn’t go away with rest
  • tiredness
  • weight loss for no reason
Speak with your GP if you have any of these symptoms.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)

As men get older their prostate gland enlarges. This is a common condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). As the prostate gland enlarges, it can press on the urethra and bladder. This can affect how you pass urine and cause symptoms such as:

  • passing urine more often during the day or night (nocturia)
  • difficulty passing urine – this includes a weaker flow, not emptying your bladder completely and straining when starting to empty your bladder
  • urgency to pass urine

BPH does not develop into cancer. But you can have an enlarged prostate at the same time as having areas in the prostate gland that contain cancer cells. 

It’s important to see your GP if you have symptoms of BPH. The symptoms don't mean that you have prostate cancer, but it is important to get them checked. As part of investigating the cause of the symptoms, you might have a blood test called a PSA test. This is one of the tests doctors use to help diagnose prostate cancer.

  • Prostate cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2019. Last updated December 2021

  • Prostate cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    C Parker and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2020. Vol 31, Issue 9. Pages 1119-1134

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2015. Last updated Dec 2021

  • Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Lower Urinary tract symptoms in men: management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), May 2010. Last updated June 2015

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

Last reviewed: 
15 Mar 2022
Next review due: 
15 Mar 2025

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