HomeHealthMen warned of a ‘tidal wave of risk’ from prostate cancer

Men warned of a ‘tidal wave of risk’ from prostate cancer

Prostate cancer diagnosis rates are on the rise, and an estimated 630,000 Australian men have at least double the risk of a diagnosis due to family history.

Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia chief executive Anne Savage says: “Essentially what we are facing is a tidal wave of risk.”

New research predicts that the number of men being diagnosed will rise from more than 240,000 to 372,000 by 2040 – a 43 per cent increase.

Yet Ms Savage says awareness “remains at an appallingly low level”.

For many men over 50, prostate cancer is discussed only in jest, with jokes usually centred around sexual dysfunction and the prospect of digital rectal examination. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a bit of light-hearted banter on the subject, but if the discussion stops there, the outcome could be serious, maybe even tragic.

As a man over 50, I have engaged in that banter, but it’s also a topic that hits close to home – for two reasons. The first is a man by the name of Ted ‘EJ’ Whitten. AFL fans will know this man as a larger-than-life character of the game, and one of its greatest players. He played for Footscray, my team.

They will also well remember EJ’s famous lap of the MCG with son Ted Junior in front of more than 80,000 fans in 1995. Days later he died of prostate cancer, aged 62.

Read: Prostate cancer breakthrough hailed as a game-changer

The second reason for my personal investment in the subject is that two of my brothers have been diagnosed with the disease in the past five years.

Thankfully, in both cases their diagnoses came early, and both are monitoring and managing the conditions well, and living full, healthy lives.

Sadly, in Ted Whitten’s case, his diagnosis came too late.

Ted Junior would later relate that his father ignored some of the warning signs, such as needing to urinate far more often than usual.

Ted Junior later helped set up the EJ Whitten Foundation to raise awareness and funding for prostate cancer. Despite the good work of the foundation, now known as RULE Prostate Cancer, awareness remains low.

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According to Ms Savage, many men still see prostate cancer as an old man’s disease. Late last year, she highlighted the dangers of that perception. “The truth is,” she says, “more than 3500 men aged 59 or younger are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, and one of those men will die every five days.”

What, then, can be done to ensure diagnosis before it’s too late?

Ms Savage says reminders could be integrated into routine GP check-ups and also via the myGov My Health Record system.

“These are ideas that need to be explored and considered,” she says.

The importance of such measures is underlined by the fact that symptoms of prostate cancer are often lacking, particularly in the early stages.

Read: Prostate cancer linked to dementia

PCFA medical advisory committee chairman Dr Peter Heathcote says: “Many will have no symptoms at the point of diagnosis, which means education and more proactive risk assessment, beginning with a PSA blood test, is key to early detection and survival.”

However, the strategy of routine PSA blood testing has its critics. The federal government’s Health Direct website says: “Cancer Council Australia and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners both recommend against routine screening in men without symptoms.

“That is because the PSA test is not very accurate for screening men without symptoms. High PSA levels can be due to many things, and cancer is just one of them. And a man with prostate cancer can have a normal PSA level.”

But, under the leadership of Dr Heathcote, the foundation is undergoing a review of PSA testing guidelines.

In the face of conflicting advice, what should men over 50 do? First, if you have any symptoms of prostate cancer – which include but are not limited to difficulty starting urination, weak or interrupted flow of urine, urinating often, especially at night, and trouble emptying the bladder completely – see your GP sooner rather than later.

If you don’t have symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your GP regularly in any case, once you’re beyond 50. A visit can’t hurt, and it could save your life.

Have you consulted your GP about prostate cancer? How do you feel about PSA checks? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

1 COMMENT

  1. I am a prostate cancer survivor after radiation treatment. Clear for five years now. I had no symptoms but thanks to a caring GP had a PSA test at 55 which showed it was slightly elevated putting it at the high end of the normal range. Monitoring over the next ten years showed it tracking just above the normal range range until I hit 65 when it began shooting up. I had some rectal exams during those years which revealed an enlarged but soft prostate so were inconclusive. Then I had a biopsy which was clear. At around 67 with my PSA still rising I underwent a mass biopsy and that one found cancer. Scans then revealed three small tumours and other tests indicated they had not yet spread outside the prostate. So at 68 it was time for action, either removal or six months of hormone therapy and two months of radiation therapy. I chose radiation partly because the new Cairns hospital had state of the art radiation equipment which is highly accurate after a speck of gold is implanted in the prostate. Now at 73 I am cancer free with only minor long term side effects. I should also add that I received excellent care which as a full age pensioner cost me nothing thanks to Medicare and the Queensland public hospital system.

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