Clinic Location & Map

#09-40 Mt Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre
(located within Mt Elizabeth Novena Hospital)
38 Irrawaddy Road
Singapore 329563

Phone: +65 6235 1180
Fax: +65 668 41310
Emergency: +65 6535 8833

Clinic Hours

Monday - Friday 9:00am - 5:30pm
Saturday 9:00am -12:30pm
Sunday / Public Holiday Closed

Prostate Cancer

Prostate Cancer

Prostate Cancer is very rare before the age of 50 years but the risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age. The exact cause is unknown, as genetic causes account for only 9% of cases. From migration studies, high fat and meat diet seems to be the common risk factor. Although this is predominantly a disease of the Western world, this may not be true anymore for Asian men whose increasingly eat a more Westernised diet. Prostate cancer is now the 3rd commonest cancer in Singapore men.


In its early stages, prostate cancer do not cause any symptoms. As the cancer progresses, the enlarging tumour compress the urethra, blocking the flow of urine. When this happens, frequent urination and terminal dribbling occur. Occasionally, blood in the urine or semen is the first sign of prostate cancer. As prostate cancer advances, it spreads to the pelvic lymph nodes and the bones, causing leg swelling and bone pain. At this stage, the kidney may become completely blocked and fractures may occur. A late manifestation is spinal cord compression and paralysis.


Prostate Cancer is classified into its 4 stages [Fig 1].

Stages of Prostate Cancer

Figure 1. Stages of Prostate Cancer

In Stage 1, there are no symptoms. The cancer is of small volume and is confined to the prostate gland. It usually goes undetected, cannot be felt on finger examination and picked up during health screening when the PSA level is high (> 4 ng/dL) or after transurethral prostate (TURP) surgery.

In Stage 2, the cancer can be felt as a hard nodule on rectal examination. Although the tumour has grown to the point where it can be felt, it is still confined within the prostate and cure is still possible.

By Stage 3, the cancer has begun to spread out of the prostate capsule. At this stage, urinary symptoms appear, eg. frequent, difficult urination, terminal dribbling. This stage is also known as locally advanced stage and the cancer has less chance of being completely cured. Treatment is aimed at slowing its spread and preventing further bladder blockage.

At Stage 4, the cancer has already spread beyond the prostate to the lymph nodes and bones. Symptoms at this stage include retention of urine, bone pain, weight loss and fatigue. At this stage, treatment is targeted at preventing further complications and reducing pain.


Prostate biopsy

Fig 2. Prostate biopsy is done under ultrasound guidance

The most reliable method of diagnosing prostate cancer is by means of a biopsy. This is done via the rectum under ultrasound guidance [Fig 2]. Because this procedure carries risk of infection and bleeding, prophylactic antibiotics are to be given beforehand and anti-platelet drugs like aspirin and plavix must be stopped for at least a week before the biopsy. As it is now standard practice to take at least 10 to 12 cores, this can be a painful procedure. Hence, local anaesthesia consisting of a peri-prostatic nerve block should be given prior to biopsy.

Upon histological confirmation of cancer, scans are done to confirm the stage of the disease. These consist of MRI or CT scan and a bone scan.


Early Prostate Cancer (Stage 1 & 2)

When the tumour is confined to the prostate gland as in Stages 1 and 2, cure is possible. This is achieved through surgery or radiation, but advocated only for men who are expected to have a life-span of 10 years or more.

a) Surgery (Radical Prostatectomy))

Here, the entire prostate containing the cancer is removed [Fig 3]. Pelvic lymph nodes are also sampled if the PSA is > 10 ug/L or the tumour is of high-grade. Complications include bleeding, urine leak, impotence and incontinence. A relatively young, otherwise healthy man is an ideal candidate for surgery. The laparoscopic technique is a minimal invasive method of doing radical prostatectomy with the advantage of less pain and faster recovery, but the robotic method is now favoured because the blood loss is even less and functional outcomes better. This is made possible by the 3-dimensional, magnified vision and articulate robotic arms which help the surgeon not only in dissecting out the prostate but also join the bladder to the urethra with water-tight precision. See article on "Robotic Radical Prostatectomy". Following successful surgery with no cancer left behind, the PSA level drops to zero by a month.

Picture of Radical prostatectomy

Fig 3. Radical prostatectomy is the removal of the entire prostate gland

b) Radiation (External beam or Brachytherapy)

Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays to kill the cancerous cells. There are 2 ways to administer this therapy, either externally (DXT) or internally (brachytherapy). External beam radiotherapy is a daily session lasting 7 weeks. Side-effects include fatigue, skin reaction, frequent urination, diarrhoea and rectal bleeding. Brachytherapy involves placing multiple radioactive seeds within the prostate and requires soft-ware planning and accurate placement as seed migration to the lungs or out of the urethra can occur [Fig 4]. The side effects of radiotherapy are cumulative and include urinary / faecal incontinence and impotence.

Radiotherapy is often combined with hormonal treatment to achieve better response rates. The limitation with radiotherapy is that high-grade cancers may not respond and cure rate not as good as surgery. However, its appeal is the avoidance of surgery-related risks. For this reason, it is preferred by older patients and those with multiple medical problems. As it takes time for radiation waves to kill the cancer cells, the PSA takes a longer time to drop to zero and this may even be up to 2 years, assuming the cancer cells are radio-sensitive.

Picture of Brachytherapy

Fig 4. Brachytherapy involves planting radioactive seeds within the prostate

c) Watchful Waiting

Watchful waiting is an option based on autopsy studies which showed that many men who died of other illnesses harboured prostate cancer. This is feasible for older men (above 75 years) and those with low-grade, low-volume prostate cancer with low PSA levels at the time of diagnosis. The problem with adopting this policy is that as high as 30% of such cases progress to aggressive cancers and thereby, still require intervention. The first clue to cancer progression is a fast rising PSA level (> 1 ng/dL per year) or development of obstructive urinary symptoms.

Advanced Prostate Cancer (Stage 3 & 4)

Both surgery and radiation can be used either alone or together to treat Stage 3 disease. However, most Stage 3 cancers still require hormonal treatment to retard cancer cells that have spread beyond the confines of the prostate. In Stage 4, palliation is the only treatment and consists of hormonal ablation. In the event of painful bone involvement, direct radiation to the bone or biphosphonate drug infusion eg. Zometa, can be given to halt further bony destruction.

Control of the disease is achieved by either reducing the production of testosterone, the hormone that fuels the cancer, or blocking its action. Depriving prostate cancer of testosterone causes it to shrink and this is achieved in one of 3 ways:

a) Orchidectomy

This is the surgical removal of the testicles and is a minor operation. As 95% of testosterone is produced by the testes, orchidectomy immediately brings down the testosterone levels to negligible levels.

b) Anti - Androgens

These drugs block the action of testosterone at the cell level. There are many drugs available and they can be used in combination with other therapies. Side-effects vary from diarrhoea to painful breast enlargement (gynaecomastia).

c) LHRH agonists

This group of drugs is given by injection under the skin at either monthly or 3 monthly intervals [Fig 5]. They act by shutting down testosterone production in the testicles and similar in action to surgical orchidectomy.

The problem with hormonal control for advanced disease is that hormone-resistance develops in many patients after 1 to 2 years. When this develops, the PSA will start to rise again, associated with weight loss and bone pain. The next line of control will then have to be chemotherapy, eg. docetaxel which has many side-effects.

Picture of Injection of LHRH

Fig 5. Injection of LHRH drug under the skin

Because advanced prostate cancer causes excess pain and morbidity, early detection is still the best way to prevent such suffering. With early detection and treatment, prostate cancer can be cured with a survival rate as high as 90%.