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‘When you’re told you have cancer, it is like being hit over the head with a mallet’

For older men, getting a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test could be a lifesaver

Colm Murphy had never been in hospital until he went to have surgery for prostate cancer in March 2020.

Now, 18 months later, the 64-year-old feels incredibly lucky that his radical prostatectomy took place at all as St Vincent's University Hospital – like all other hospitals throughout Ireland – was days away from adjusting its schedules to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Co Wicklow-based businessman wants to encourage older men to have regular blood tests to check the levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in their prostate gland. High levels of PSA can be an early sign for prostate cancer – although high levels of PSA in the blood can also be caused by infections of the prostate gland or urinary tract.

“My message to men over 50 is that getting their bloods done – at a cost of about €30 – could save their life,” says Murphy. Like most men, he says he rarely went to the doctor, preferring to sort out minor complaints himself. However, when he started experiencing difficulty going to the toilet a few years ago, he went to his GP for advice. While his PSA levels weren’t a concern, he was referred to a urologist who diagnosed an enlarged prostate gland and gave him tablets for a few months to help ease the flow of urine.


I look after myself more in terms of exercise and diet, and I'm aware of the impact it has had on my family

About 18 months later, he returned to his GP about another matter and she suggested he have his PSA levels checked again. This time, his raised PSA levels led to other scans, and biopsies taken from his prostate gland. “I went into the hospital with my wife to get the results expecting to be told to take a bit more exercise or cut down on the drink, but instead I was told that three out of 12 biopsies were found to be cancerous – two of which were at stage one and one at stage three,” he explains.

Murphy says that both his parents had suffered from different cancers, although his father went on to live to the age of 90. “When you’re told you have cancer, it is like being hit over the head with a mallet. My choices were surgery or radiotherapy for 12 months. I decided on surgery, thinking that the quicker it was got out the better.”

So on March 2nd, 2020, Murphy had his surgery and spent the following five days in hospital. “I couldn’t walk much in the first two weeks and I suffered incontinence for a while, but doing the pelvic floor exercises gave me back control very quickly.”


Unsurprisingly, Murphy says the biggest challenge was Covid. “We isolated as a family for the next nine to 10 months and we are still cautious even though we – my wife and I and our teenage children – are fully vaccinated now.” Murphy returned to work from his home office four weeks after surgery and continued to work throughout the pandemic.

Follow-up PSA tests – six weeks after discharge from hospital and at six-monthly intervals since then – have all come back with low levels, and Murphy now says that he feels his GP’s suggestion to take a PSA test two years ago saved his life. “If she hadn’t said, I want to do your bloods, I wouldn’t have bothered. I’m very grateful to her for that.”

We should have huge confidence in our urology experts in this country. Prostate cancer is curable when it is caught early

Now back doing a reasonable level of exercise, he says that the experience has changed him. “It does change your attitude towards a lot of things. I look after myself more in terms of exercise and diet, and I’m aware of the impact it has had on my family.”

And Murphy’s message to other men is “you don’t have to be lucky like me. You can get your bloods checked regularly.” He adds that although he had an enlarged prostate, he never thought that he had cancer. “It’s scary when you are told. The most important thing for me was to deal with it mentally first and get into a positive place. We should have huge confidence in our urology experts in this country. Prostate cancer is curable when it is caught early. I’m grateful that I’m as healthy as I am, enjoying life with my family. I hope to live to the same age as my dad now.”

Prostate cancer: the facts

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer in men, after skin cancer. One in seven men in Ireland will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime and almost 4,000 men are diagnosed with it in Ireland every year.

Prostate cancer is often asymptomatic. However, symptoms which may indicate prostate cancer are passing urine more frequently at night or experiencing pain when passing urine. Blood in the urine or semen or the feeling of not emptying the bladder fully are rarer symptoms.

Prostate cancer is diagnosed when biopsies taken from the prostate gland are found to be malignant. These biopsies are taken if levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood have been found to be high. However, high PSA levels can also be caused by infections in the prostate gland or urinary tract. Two out of three men with a raised PSA who go on to have a prostate biopsy do not have prostate cancer.

Treatment for prostate cancer depends on the stage or grade of the cancer. These include active surveillance (regular blood tests and physical examinations, scans and biopsies to spot any changes), surgery, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy.

Through its Blue September campaign, the Marie Keating Foundation is encouraging men over 50 to get their PSA levels checked regularly with their GPs. See and