Prostate cancerEvery year 600 women die from breast cancer, while the figure for prostate cancer deaths is 650.

The poor relation?

By Roger Childs

The country has recently had a week to increase awareness of breast cancer and this is to be applauded. There was also a Pink Ribbon Appeal Day last weekend. The Dominion Post in an excellent gesture, replaced the usual blue backing near the top of its front page with pink. Furthermore, the Taranaki men’s rugby team has recently been wearing bright pink socks in National Provincial Championship matches.

Pink socksIncreasing awareness of this killer is very sensible and emphasizing early detection is highly appropriate. However, shouldn’t prostate cancer get the same attention?  

Prostate Cancer FoundationSeptember is the prostate cancer awareness month and there is a push for fund raising at that time, but there is no particular collection day. There is a Prostate Cancer Foundation and you can make donations. This year the media published a number of articles in September, including one emphasizing the delays many sufferers face who do not have access to the private health system. 

The testing, diagnostic process and subsequent options

The PSA test measures the level of prostate-specific antigen in the blood and high levels may indicate cancer. Urologists will often recommend having a biopsy to take samples from the organ to see if cancer is present. A full body scan may also be recommended in the event of the cancer being present, to check if it has spread to other parts of the body.

If the answer is “No”, the urologist or oncologist will usually recommend continuing PSA blood tests, say every three months. 

If a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer there are various options.

  • Watchful waiting – on-going monitoring of PSA levels to see if there are significant changes. If the PSA level stays much the same, this approach continues.
  • Removing the prostate – this may be suggested and will result in the PSA dropping to virtually nil. However, there is the risk of side effects such as  – incontinence, erectile dysfunction and impotence.
  • Hormone treatment – this involves regular injections which will halt the progression of the cancer, but it usually leads to reduced energy.
  • Brachytherapy – radioactive implants are put into the prostate tissue to neutralize the cancer.
  • Radiotherapy – this will often kill the cancer, but the side effects listed above often occur.

A big issue

Prostate cancer is the most common form among Kiwi men. It is no respecter of social status, wealth or ethnicity. Close on 3,000 males are diagnosed with the cancer every year in New Zealand. And with the continuing ageing of the population, that figure will increase.

Health Ministry figures showed that the number of prostate cancer diagnoses increased 24% from 2015 to 2017.

(In the next article we’ll look at whether men can survive prostate cancer.)