THE leading cause of male cancer deaths in Zimbabwe is often preventable, but far too many men are failing to take the simple steps necessary to do so.
Being a radiation therapist dealing with cancer patients, I have come to appreciate the fact that men’s health also matters. Many men in Zimbabwe are not having the needed conversation with doctors about their unique risk factors for prostate cancer and the cause behind this is that they simply do not know they need to be thinking about it!
Did you know that September is internationally known as prostate cancer awareness month. According to the national cancer registry, it ranks as the most common cancer in males in Zimbabwe.
Statistics show that worldwide every three minutes, a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer and every 17 minutes, a man dies from it. The good news is that it is usually treatable if detected early. For me, it is not only heartbreaking but often an avoidable tragedy when a man’s prostate cancer is only discovered when it’s a too late to be successfully treated.
The fact about prostate cancer is that no one really knows if or when the disease will develop but understanding the risk factors may help you to take preventive measures and decrease the likelihood of developing the disease.
While the causes of prostate cancer are not fully understood, a number of factors can increase your risk of developing the condition and these are:
n Increasing age — as men grow older chances of getting prostate cancer increase. While only 1 in 10 000 men under 40 will develop prostate cancer, one in 15 men in the 60s will be diagnosed with cancer.
n Ethnic group — common in men of African and Caribbean descent.
n Family history — having a father or brother who had prostate cancer increases risk twice, or a female relative who had breast cancer.
n Diet — high in saturated fat and calcium and low in fresh fruits and vegetables.
n Hormonal factors — too much testesterone levels predispose one to a high risk of developing prostate cancer.
n Other conditions — prostate intraepithelial neoplasia, a condition when the gland looks abnormal.
It is important to know that screening may help detect prostate cancer early before the following symptoms occur:
— Burning or pain during urination
— Difficulty urinating or trouble starting or stopping urination
— More frequent urges to urinate at night
— Loss of bladder control
— Decreased flow or velocity of urine stream
— Blood in urine and semen
— Erectile dysfunction
— Painful ejaculation
These may not be apparent in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms of prostate cancer differ for each man and any one of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, as a result routine screening in the form of a digital rectal exam and protein specific antigen (PSA) are important.
Diagnostic tools and procedures have advanced to a point where prostate cancer often can be predicted before symptoms even start. My concern though is, are these readily available and affordable, let alone whether men really know about them. There really is need to improve prostate cancer screening services.
But early detection demands education and reaching the men who need it requires not just educating guys of a certain age, it means reaching their spouses, children and friends and other family members. It requires creating a culture where everyone knows that an annual routine conversation with a doctor, including shared decision-making about PSA tests and digital rectal examination could save a man’s life.
This year, we can make September the start of a revitalised focus, the kick-off of a campaign to ensure that men are protected. We can change the conversation and make Zimbabwe a leader in combating prostate cancer through education and early detection .
Our commitment to saving lives must extend beyond September. This is a call-out to the government, policy makers, the corporate world, health professionals and the nation at large. Let us all work together in the fight against prostate cancer. Men’s health matters too!
n Madzudzo is Talk Cancer Zim founder.