Men afraid of prostate cancer screening

Most Namibian men shy away from prostate cancer screening because the examination is done rectally, the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN) told The Villager this week.

CAN Chief Executive Officer Rolf Hansen revealed that his organisation confirmed only 1070 cases of prostate cancer from 2005 to date, while only 728 cases were detected between 1991 and 2005. On average, 100 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in Namibia, and it is suspected that many more may be living with it and not know about it.

Because men are uncomfortable with the rectal examination, they will not get screened for prostate cancer. “Men fear if they are positive, the prostate could be removed,” Hansen noted, as prostate removal has become stigmatized in society because it is perceived to lessen a man’s masculinity.

In order to destigmatise prostate screenings to benefit the health of the male population, the public must understand what prostate cancer is, and the importance of the examinations. “We need to equip ourselves with knowledge on the subject matter, then we can communicate to the public professionally. And then we start to create more effective awareness campaigns, and more thoroughly assist in cancer control,” said one of CAN’s nurses, Christy Kavetuna.

Last week, the CAN held an awareness campaign involving members of the media, who received free prostate cancer and breast cancer tests as well as pap smears. CAN emphasised the importance of educating the media about the disease in order to “enable them to write compelling and convincing articles so that the Namibian population can comprehend what we are dealing with”.

Prostate cancer starts as a tiny group of cancerous cells in the prostate, a tiny gland found right below the bladder in men, and can later develop into a full-blown tumour. The symptoms of prostate cancer include blood in urine or semen, poor erections, pressure while urinating, irregular urinating patterns which may cause a slow start, a drip, uncontrollable urinating as well as constant swelling. Hansen said although those symptoms are not always signs of prostate cancer, a late detection could result in the cancer metastasizing and even causing death. Thus, it is advisable for men to seek medical attention if they experience any of these symptoms.

“Early detection saves lives, and it’s 100% the case with cancer”, Hansen continued. Prostate cancer is screened through a Prostate-Specific Antigen test (PSA) and the Digital Rectal Examination (DRE).

According to the National Cancer Institute of the United States, the Prostate-Specific Antigen “is a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland.” During the PSA test, blood drawn from the arm is sent to a lab to test the level of PSA in a man’s blood, which is usually elevated if the individual has prostate cancer.

According to WebMD, a doctor gently inserts a lubricated, gloved finger of one hand into the rectum during the DRE. He or she then uses the other hand to press on the lower belly or pelvic area to check for problems with internal organs (including the prostate) or other structures in the pelvis and the lower belly region.

A rectal prostate examination takes only a few minutes, and the patient might “feel slight, momentary discomfort during the test. The procedure does not cause significant pain, or any damage to the prostate.” Pain usually occurs if the man has an infection in his prostate.

If there is concern that a patient might have prostate cancer based on either a PSA level or a rectal exam, a biopsy (lab testing of a small amount of tissue from the prostate) is the next step. This is the only way to positively diagnose the presence of prostate cancer. Once diagnosed, prostate cancer patients undergo hormonal therapy.

Although many men fear taking the DRE Test, it is not as bad as people make it out to be. It is necessary in the detection of prostate cancer, and it can help save lives.