‘Do it for dad’ this Father’s Day is the message from a leading charity encouraging men to get informed about prostate cancer and its screening and treatment.
In the absence of a nationwide screening programme, charity Prostate Cancer UK (PCUK) is raising awareness that men at risk are entitled to get tested. However, controversy surrounds the PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test.
PCUK specialist nurse Teresa Lynch admits it’s not specific enough to detect the presence of cancer, and can give false positive and false negative results.
“There’s no foolproof test.” Lynch said. “But it’s the best we’ve got.”
The walnut-shaped prostate gland, which exists only in men, lies underneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra, the tube through which urine and semen pass.
Benign conditions such as normal enlargement, inflammation or infection of the prostate could raise PSA levels and cause anxiety, said Lynch. Knowing the test limitations is important. She urges men from the three risk groups to get tested: over 50s, black African Caribbean, and men with a family history of the disease. Men in their 40s who fall into the other risk groups also have the right to be screened.
Black African Caribbean men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than white men.
One survivor, whose life drastically changed after his shocking discovery, urges men to overcome reservations and get screened by their GP.
“Go and get tested. Its better to live than die of shame,” said Phil Kissi, who is a campaign volunteer for PCUK. “That’s my motto.”
Kissi, now 55, learnt about prostate cancer after watching a City Hospital TV programme eight years ago. He had wondered about the cause of deaths of his two grandfathers who had “problems with urine” and this led to a suspicion that “something wasn’t right” with his own health.
“It was something they hid in the closet and no one talked about,” Kissi said. Further probing revealed they had both died of prostate cancer.
“In Africa there’s a massive stigma, because it’s talking about your manhood, the area most men are shy to talk about.”
Kissi said African Caribbean men often delay getting tested.
From black West African descent, almost 50 years old, and with a family history of the disease, Kissi was in the top risk category.
Although he was fit and felt well, ran 2-3 miles a day and had no noticeable symptoms, his worries led him to his GP to have three PSA tests and a digital rectal exam (DRE). The tests showed “nothing scary”, yet his concerns persisted. Kissi had discovered on the Prostate Cancer UK’s website that he could ask for a biopsy.
The diagnosis revealed an aggressive prostate cancer.
“I had one of the worst types. The clock was ticking once they found out I’d got it. I was very lucky. That saved my life,” he said.
Kissi had robotic surgery at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, and was back at work 30 days after the operation.
“It was the most difficult period of my life but also the most inspirational.
“I recognised how life can go instantly. Things that I valued – doing well at work, being top dog, winning things, weren’t important anymore.”
Kissi vowed to dedicate his life to help raise awareness of prostate cancer and to help young people get out of crime, take up sport, and get into employment. He has been awarded an MBE for his work.
Prostate cancer displays little or no symptoms and is shrouded in mystery, despite being the most common cancer in men.
According to Cancer Research UK figures, British men have a 1 in 8 risk of developing prostate cancer, it kills 10,000 per year, and is predicted to be the most prevalent cancer in 2030.
Yet, due to increased testing among men at risk, survival rates beyond five years have improved. Eight in ten men are able to lead normal lives after treatment and 250,000 men are living with prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer can either be an aggressive or non-aggressive type. The former requires radiotherapy or surgery, while the latter will be actively monitored with regular PSA tests and DREs.
Lynch’s work deals with the emotional impact of diagnosis.
“Men can be appalled. There are no symptoms, they feel well, they say ‘I’m doing all the right things: I eat well, exercise’. Our job is to make it appear less shocking,” she said.
Radical surgery has side-effects such as urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. Lynch stresses that the effects are temporary and acknowledges the “excellent” support that volunteers such as Phil Kissi give to newly diagnosed men.
The message they give is powerful: One, ‘I lived to tell the tale’; two, ‘I managed and I’m back to normal’.
PCUK is running fundraising events for more research into prostate cancer on Father’s Day, June 16th.