September marks the advent of International Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, an important and necessary campaign initiated by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) that seeks to inform the community about the impact that prostate cancer can have on the lives of men and their loved ones, and to fund research and support. This year they are asking Australians to showcase their own interpretation of a “Big Aussie Barbie” in celebration of Australia’s colourful and culturally-diverse community. We want to help them achieve that goal by sending the message as far and as wide as possible.
It may shock you to know that just as many men die from prostate cancer each year as women die from breast cancer. More than 3,300 will lose their lives, making it among the top five causes of death among Australian men. According to the PCFA, “every year 22,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, joining close to 120,000 Australian men who are already living with the disease. Every man has a one in five chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer by the time they are 85.” And just like breast cancer, there is a very real genetic component at play. Since you won’t know exactly what your predisposition is without genetic testing, it’s important to at least know what exactly prostate cancer is, and what the early warning signs are.
What Is The Prostate?
The prostate is a male reproductive organ that is poorly-understood among the general populous. Its main function is to secrete a fluid which nourishes and protect developing sperm. This fluid also contains enzymes such as the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which makes the semen thinner. Along with fluid from the seminal vesicle and the smaller bulbourethral gland, as well as the sperm itself, the prostate secretions complete the make-up of the semen. They combine together in the urethra during peak sexual excitation, and the opening to the bladder is squeezed shut so urine cannot interact with the seminal fluid.
The prostate gland sits just below the bladder, and is supported by the pelvic muscles. In young men the prostate is about the size of a walnut and weighs around 30 grams, but it may enlarge in aging men. The rectum curves right behind it, making this an ideal location from which to examine the health of the prostate. It is this factor that inhibits many men from booking in routine examinations, but given what’s at stake, we hope the tide continues to change.
The PCFA believes that public conversations go a long way to helping the cause.
“There have been a number of high profile Australian men, such as Alan Jones and Wayne Swan, who have spoken about their own prostate cancer journeys and in doing so helped to reduce to reduce the stigma of testing and the disease. Men from 50 years, or 40 with a family history, should talk to their doctor about being tested for prostate cancer as part of their annual health check.”
When Should You Pay Attention?
If you’ve started waking during the night because of a sudden need to urinate, find yourself needing to go with little warning, or have difficultly urinating, this is your cue to seek medical advice. Other symptoms that something isn’t right include changes or disruptions to your urine flow, pain on urination (also called ‘dysuria’), a change of colour (including the presence of blood) in your urine, or erectile problems. Even if you have just one of these problems, you still need to book an appointment with your trusted GP at the earliest possible availability.
It’s important not to panic if you’re experiencing these issues. There’s a good probability that tests will indicate a benign enlargement of the prostate (which has other implications), but you don’t want to be taking chances with your health.
So What Is Prostate Cancer? And Am I At Risk?
Prostate cancer occurs when cells within the prostate reproduce in an uncontrolled way, causing a tumour. Prostate cancer cells have the ability to metastasise, or spread easily to other parts of the body – commonly to the bones and the lymph nodes. This means that early detection is considered critical, and will determine the likelihood of recovery. If a prostate cancer has already metastasised, a complete recovery is rare. On the upside, an early diagnosis has an excellent survival rate – one of the highest five-year survival rates of all cancers. 92% of men who are diagnosed at the earliest stage will survive prostate cancer.
The most significant risk factor for prostate cancer is age: the risk of being diagnosed with the disease increases significantly after the age of 50. The second highest risk factor is family history of the disease. If you’ve had someone in the family diagnosed with prostate cancer, you’re twice as likely to develop the disease.The PCFA says that, as we get older, the best advice is to “eat a balanced, healthy diet, exercise regularly and to moderate the consumption of alcohol”. This, they say, will reduce the risk of developing a number of diseases as we age.
What Can I Do To Help?
Even though just as many men die from prostate cancer each year as women die from breast cancer, sufferers of the disease currently lack the associated sense of public camaraderie and promotional campaigns that breast cancer organisations have successfully developed. Charity NGOs like Movember do some brilliant work in the field of prostate cancer, and the PCFA is doing their utmost to spread the word, so thankfully awareness is increasing steadily. This International Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, you can get involved and help the PCFA fund research, awareness and community support by registering for the Big Aussie Barbie.
Because the traditional Aussie barbeque needs no excuse, make yours meaningful by having your friends and family come together in support of men’s health and to donate to the PCFA’s brilliant cause. This year, they are aiming to achieve a fundraising goal of $1 million dollars to put towards their innovative prostate research and support programs.
The PCFA hopes the Big Aussie Barbie will also break the ice when it comes to talking about prostate cancer.
“Prostate cancer may only be a male-only disease but it affects family, friends and entire communities. We need all Australians to continue having an open discussion about prostate cancer so men are aware of their own risks and know their options when it comes to testing.”