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Prostate cancer: 'If you are at risk, don't ignore it, go and talk about it and seek some advice'

3,474 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually.

ALMOST EIGHT IN 10 men admit they have never spoken to their father or a significant male relative about their prostate health, new research released this week has found. 

3,474 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually, making it the most common cancer in men in Ireland. 

The study also revealed that two-thirds of men were unaware of this fact. Just 15% of those aged 35-44 were aware, making it all the more important that these conversations happen.

The research was carried out by Empathy Research and conducted through an online survey across a nationally representative sample of 501 men aged 18 and over. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, the Marie Keating Foundation’s director of nursing services Helen Forristal said that she was surprised by the high number of men who don’t speak to their family about their prostate health. 

“My background has been working with prostate cancer men. I would be surprised now, to be honest with you. I would have thought it would be better than that, but if you asked me maybe five or 10 years ago, it wouldn’t surprise me at all,” she said. 

Forristal has been working in the area of urology for over 20 years. 

Despite the statistics above and despite her surprise, she said that “men have got so much better at opening up and discussing their health generally”. 

That being said, The Irish Cancer Society said last year that over 75% of their interaction with the public is with women – which even includes questions around prostate cancer. This is because it’s often men’s wives who call up on their behalf to ask the questions they have.

From her own experience, Forristal said she has found that many men “haven’t necessarily wanted to talk about their health issues” and that they’ve “pushed things to the side”. 

“What I have seen in my career is that their loving wives or partners are very much in tune with what might be going on and they’re aware. They often push their husbands or partners forward for the PSA test itself,” she said.

A PSA test is a blood test used primarily to screen for prostate cancer. The Irish Cancer Society notes that the PSA blood test is not reliable to diagnose prostate cancer. More information on that can be read here

Ireland does not offer a routine national prostate screening programme. According to the Irish Cancer Society, it is not known for sure if routine prostate screening can reduce the number of deaths from prostate cancer. 

It has offered the following advice on its website:

“Deciding to have prostate cancer screening done is a personal decision and should be based upon having a full discussion with your doctor beforehand in order to weigh up the pros and cons. This way you will have a greater understanding of what the test involves, and an understanding that it could lead you to having to make further important decisions which might affect your life now, and perhaps in the future.”

Starting conversations

One in eight men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime, but that risk goes up by 2.5 times if a close male family relative has had it.

So, with that in mind, the Marie Keating Foundation is calling on more men to begin conversations about prostate health. 

Forristal has urged men to try to open up and speak out.

“It’s really important if there’s a family history or a genetic link within a family that family members are aware because the risk is 2.5 times greater if they have a father or an uncle or a brother who has had prostate cancer,” Foristal said. 

“The GP will decide whether it’s the right time or not, usually it’s 50 years onwards, or if a man presents with some sort of urinary symptoms, which incidentally don’t necessarily mean you have cancer, it just means that your prostate may becoming enlarged at that age in your life,” she said.

If a person has a family history of prostate cancer, or if they are in another high-risk group, the Irish Cancer Society has suggested that that person could discuss the option of having a PSA test from the age of 40 with their GP. 

It also advises that if a person has no family history and is not in a high-risk group, many doctors feel it best to discuss the possibility of a PSA test from the age of 50. 

“If you are at risk, don’t ignore it, go and talk about it and seek some advice,” Forristal said.

Speaking of the progress that has been made with prostate cancer over the years, Forristal added: “If I went back 35 years in my career, I have seen so much change for the better in prostate cancer because I would have seen men walking through clinic doors with very high PSAs.

“They would have prostate cancer that had spread to bones and thankfully that is quite rare now.” 

PSA is made by normal prostate cells as well as by prostate cancer cells.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, if a PSA level is higher than normal, it can sometimes be a sign of prostate cancer. However, it oftentimes can also act as a sign of a less serious condition like an enlarged or inflamed prostate. 

To address the need for more prostate cancer awareness, the Marie Keating Foundation has launched a new booklet called Prostate Cancer – From Diagnosis to Recovery, which aims to be a resource for anyone on or recovering from a prostate cancer journey. 

The charity’s research has also found that despite increases in early detection in prostate cancer leading to a 92% five-year survival rate, just 16% of people say they feel well informed about the early signs and symptoms of prostate cancer.

There is also a distinct lack of awareness when it comes to the role of the prostate, with three-quarters of men incorrectly identifying what its function is.

The symptoms of growths in the prostate are similar, whether they are non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). These symptoms include:

  • Having to rush to the toilet to pass urine
  • Passing urine more often than usual, especially at night
  • Difficulty passing urine, including straining to pass it or stopping and starting
  • A sense of not being able to completely empty the bladder

Very rarely you may get:

  • Pain when passing urine
  • Blood in the urine or semen

This article has been amended to accurately reflect information regarding PSA blood tests. 

With reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha

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