Young men who suffer appendicitis before the age of 20 are up to NINE TIMES more at risk of prostate cancer
- Young men who suffer appendicitis nine times more likely to get prostate cancer
- Up to 40,000 men and women a year in the UK have their appendix removed
- Study marks first to highlight potential risk of tumour from inflamed appendix
Young men who suffer appendicitis before the age of 20 are up to nine times more likely to get prostate cancer later in life, a study shows.
Scientists found the painful infection dramatically increases the chances of being diagnosed with a fatal form of the disease.
Up to 40,000 men and women a year in the UK have their appendix removed by surgeons due to painful inflammation.
The study, by scientists at Orebro University in Sweden, is one of the first to highlight the potential risk of a tumour in males whose appendix becomes inflamed.
Young men who suffer appendicitis are up to nine times more likely to get prostate cancer later
What the researchers did
Appendicitis is either due to repeat infections that cause abdominal pain and nausea, or acute infections, where the pain erupts within hours.
It is usually caused by an infection that has spread from elsewhere, such as the stomach.
The organ itself is a small, worm-like pouch, about two to four inches long, which is located on the right side of the tummy.
It was long thought to play no obvious useful role in the human body.
But in recent years, evidence has emerged that it may help to fight infection and keep the immune system healthy.
The Swedish team studied more than 240,000 18-year-olds who signed up for military service over several decades.
As part of the process, records were kept of how many had been ill with appendicitis – or had their appendix removed – before joining up.
The volunteers were then tracked for nearly 40 years to see how many went on to develop prostate cancer later in life.
The results, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, revealed just under 1,700 of the men developed a tumour when they got older.
The scientists found those who had been ill with appendicitis as youngsters were 70 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer overall.
But when they looked at how many were diagnosed with advanced cancer that had spread to other parts of the body, they found appendicitis sufferers were four times more at risk.
And among those that died from their tumours, the risk was almost nine times greater.
Scientists found the infection increases the chances of being diagnosed with prostate cancer
The right environment for cancer
Scientists are not sure why an inflamed appendix might be linked with cancer years later.
But one theory is that being ill with appendicitis as a child leads to years of low-level inflammation in the body that provides the right environment for cancer cells to grow.
Previous research has found, for example, that a woman is more likely to be able to fall pregnant if she has had her appendix removed.
The reason is thought to be that a grumbling appendix leads to constant, low-level inflammation that makes it harder for embryos to implant in the womb.
In a report on the findings researchers said: ‘These results suggest a diagnosis of appendicitis before adulthood signals underlying immune characteristics – as a pattern of inflammatory response – that is relevant to prostate cancer risk.
‘This is another area of investigation potentially relevant to tumour development.’
Prostate cancer kills almost 12,000 men a year in the UK.
WHAT IS PROSTATE CANCER?
How many people does it kill?
Prostate cancer became a bigger killer than breast cancer for the first time, official statistics revealed earlier this year.
More than 11,800 men a year – or one every 45 minutes – are now killed by the disease in Britain, compared with about 11,400 women dying of breast cancer.
It means prostate cancer is behind only lung and bowel in terms of how many people it kills in Britain. In the US, the disease kills 26,000 each year.
Despite this, it receives less than half the research funding of breast cancer – while treatments for the disease are trailing at least a decade behind.
How quickly does it develop?
Prostate cancer usually develops slowly, so there may be no signs someone has it for many years, according to the NHS.
If the cancer is at an early stage and not causing symptoms, a policy of ‘watchful waiting’ or ‘active surveillance’ may be adopted.
Some patients can be cured if the disease is treated in the early stages.
But if it diagnosed at a later stage, when it has spread, then it becomes terminal and treatment revolves around relieving symptoms.
Thousands of men are put off seeking a diagnosis because of the known side effects from treatment, including erectile dysfunction.
Tests and treatment
Tests for prostate cancer are haphazard, with accurate tools only just beginning to emerge.
There is no national prostate screening programme as for years the tests have been too inaccurate.
Doctors struggle to distinguish between aggressive and less serious tumours, making it hard to decide on treatment.
Men over 50 are eligible for a ‘PSA’ blood test which gives doctors a rough idea of whether a patient is at risk.
But it is unreliable. Patients who get a positive result are usually given a biopsy which is also not foolproof.
Scientists are unsure as to what causes prostate cancer, but age, obesity and a lack of exercise are known risks.
Anyone with any concerns can speak to Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses on 0800 074 8383 or visit prostatecanceruk.org
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