#WorldCancerDay: Screening for prostate cancer can save your life

What was meant to be a standard doctor’s appointment to check the cause of a painful finger joint ended up changing the course of his life forever Given that David Lucas was 53 at the time, an age when all men should be having their prostate checked annually, his doctor decided to do a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test in addition to a blood test to check for signs of gout. 

“I had no symptoms at all, the possibility of having prostate cancer never even crossed my mind. When the results came back, my test showed elevated levels of the Prostate-Specific Antigen, which led to an appointment with a urologist who then performed a biopsy. My prostate cancer was confirmed two weeks later,” says David, who is an ambassador for the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), spokesperson for the Daredevil campaign and passionate advocate for early testing.

The Daredevil Run, sponsored by Hollard, is a fun annual event that sees thousands of men running a 5km fun run in purple speedos. The run raises awareness of prostate and testicular cancer and uses the power of collective action to inspire positive change.

As a prostate cancer survivor, David hopes that by speaking about his own experience, he can motivate men to get themselves screened regularly. “The bottom line is that early detection saves lives,” he says.

And the statistics speak for themselves.

“All the data shows very clearly that if you pick up prostate cancer early, which requires screening, you have a 95% chance of being cured and will have a similar life expectancy to someone without the cancer”, says Professor Shingai Mutambirwa, Head of Department of Urology at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) in Pretoria and a founding member of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of South Africa (PCF). 

Prof Shingai Mutambirwa.

Prof. Mutambirwa says that in Africa and South Africa, a staggering 80% of patients present with advanced prostate cancer symptoms, a statistic far exceeding that seen in more developed countries around the world. For men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, the 5year survival rate is less than 30%.

“The problem with prostate cancer is that it sits on the outside of the prostate, so it takes a long time before you get any symptoms from it. Only if you pick it up early with PSA testing and a digital rectal examination, will we be able to treat it and cure it,” he says.

Furthermore, what many people don’t realise is that all men will eventually get prostate cancer if they live long enough.

“About half of these are not going to be troublesome, but the point is that we have to treat the other half,” Prof Murambirwa says.  “An important thing to remember is that if you are black, you have a five times increased risk of developing prostate cancer. And if you’re not black, but you have first degree relatives such as siblings, parents or children with breast cancer or prostate cancer, you are also at about a five times increased risk of developing prostate cancer, and it may be more aggressive,” he says.

“Another important fact is that prostate cancer is most common cancer in men and the second most common cause of male death from cancer,” Prof. Mutambirwa explains. He says that a PSA blood test at your health care practitioner can take a couple of seconds and can potentially save your life.

African men and men who have a family history of prostate and/or breast cancer in a first degree relative need to get screened annually from the age of 40. All men over the age of 45 need to be screened annually.

A concerning trend has emerged alongside the increasing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in South Africa and globally – a distinct decrease in the rate of people being screened for prostate (and other) cancer.

“Even with COVID-19 around, there are still other causes of death, and we need to balance the risks of exposure to COVID-19 with the chances of having prostate cancer,” Prof. Mutambirwa says. “My advice would be to maintain a screening protocol in these times, especially if you have a family history of prostate cancer, or if you have a first degree relative who has breast cancer,” he says.

David says that his positive mind set, and the loving and unconditional support of his family have been invaluable.

Heidi Brauer, Chief Marketing Officer at Hollard, sponsor of the annual Daredevil run,  is also passionate about the role of the family in helping cancer sufferers.

“The value of family, and in particular the impact of women in supporting our partners, sons, brothers and fathers when it comes to prostate cancer, cannot be underestimated,” she says.

“While men suffer the physical effects of this disease, as women we play a vital part in supporting our loved ones, reminding them to get screened and helping them through treatment when needed.”

David underwent brachytherapy and radiation therapyand is now fully in remission and free of prostate cancer. Although at his most recent check-up his PSA levels were at zero, he still goes for regular check-ups and screening.

“While the side effects of excessive fatigue and the emotional toll that my journey with cancer took was hard at times, treatment is not something to be feared. I am proof that cancer can be beaten,” he says.

This World Cancer Day, don’t let the pandemic prevent you from scheduling your annual PSA test. Phone your doctor today.

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