This problem won’t go away – it is time we stopped ignoring it
The Good Life Letter
19th February 2017
- Why do men refuse to accept the risks?
- Discover the truth about this supposedly common test
- The men’s health tonic we should not ignore
There is no easy or funny way to raise the topic of cancer, and it is not my intention today to make light of the condition.
Just by raising the issue I have done what very few other men do, I’ve started to talk about it, and this is something that must change and quickly.
Statistics published in the Guardian last month made for frightening reading – prostate cancer is killing as many men as breast cancer is in women.
The biggest problem is that women are happy to raise the issues about changes in their bodies with GPs and friends whereas men don’t – if anything males hide the symptoms even from themselves.
‘It’s nothing really’ is about as far as us chaps get in identifying a problem and usually we end the discussion with ‘well, what can I expect at my age?’.
In reality, this dismissive attitude is putting our lives on the line.
Surely we can all see the risks in not recognising the signs, and failing to ask for the tests that would help us discover a minor problem long before it becomes a major one.
So, what are the signs of changes in the prostate gland that we should be looking out for?
- Needing to urinate more often than usual, including at night – for example if you often need to go again after two hours
- Difficulty starting to urinate
- Straining or taking a long time to finish urinating
- A weak flow when you urinate
- A feeling that you’re not fully emptying your bladder
- Needing to rush to the toilet – sometimes leaking before you get there
- Dribbling urine after you finish.
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When I raised the issue about having my prostate checked by my GP he looked sternly over the top of his spectacles and said “Are you suffering any pain or significant symptoms then?”
I replied that I wasn’t but as I was over fifty wasn’t it best to be checked? He replied that “unless I was showing the necessary symptoms testing wouldn’t help.”
This confused me as I thought a simple blood test was all that was required nowadays to be sure.
The test looks for the levels of a specific chemical in the blood, called the prostate serum antigen (PSA), which is produced by pre-cancerous cells in the prostate.
I had assumed that the medics would be testing all of us as soon as we hit the big five-o.
When I began to research the topic I discovered that the advice given to doctors is not very helpful at all.
At the moment, official advice to UK GPs says: ‘The PSA test is available free to any well man aged 50 and over who requests it.’ But ‘GPs should not proactively raise the issue of PSA testing with asymptomatic men.’ And ‘GPs should use their clinical judgment to manage symptomatic men and those aged under 50 who are considered to have higher risk for prostate cancer.’
I also discovered that this test is subject to a lot of speculation about how accurate it is – many experts in the field claim that it is no better than a guess, and even the scientist who developed it, Dr Richard Ablin, has cast doubt on its validity.
A leading professor at the University of London says “The PSA blood test is cheap and easy, but isn’t selective.” He went on to add “You can’t differentiate benign (non-cancerous) prostate enlargement from cancer. And you can’t differentiate slow-growing from rapidly-growing cancers.”
This means that men often end up having further investigations, such as a biopsy, that can be painful, time-consuming and anxiety-inducing.
However, it remains the only sure test for changes to the prostate – or so I thought.
Now before men with raised PSA levels go forward for biopsy they can opt for a special MRI test which provides definitive information about the level of changes in the prostate gland.
Professor Mark Emberton at University College hospital, a prostate cancer specialist, says every man with an abnormally high PSA should have an MRI. If it’s normal, he does not need further investigation or treatment. But if an abnormal area is seen on the MRI, a guided biopsy is taken. In the days before widespread MRI, biopsies were very hit-and-miss. Kirby agrees that MRI-guided biopsies cause less damage and are more likely to yield results; the samples are analysed to find the severity of the cancer.
But in another classic example of mishandled patient care the NHS bean counters say that sending men for an MRI scan based upon a PSA test is costly and inefficient – really?
When this cancer is killing so many men someone is putting a price on its diagnosis – the NHS should be based upon need not budget, as I said on Friday.
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Time for honesty
If I have worried any of you chaps out there I have to say GOOD!
We really can’t be shrinking violets about facing up to the risks to our health, and right now prostate changes in later life are something we all need to take note of, and start a regime of self care.
Above that we need a policy of honesty with ourselves – when we first notice a change we have to act.
That might mean demanding a PSA test from your GP, or asking for help from one of the men’s health advice services like Prostate Cancer UK who have specialist nurses available on 0800 074 8383.
My advice is to also consider preventing some of the common problems with our prostate by beginning a simple and natural daily supplement specifically aimed at this important and potentially dangerous gland.
Try your own protection policy right here
Yours, as always
P.S. If you want to know more about the prostate gland, or know someone who you think needs to know more (yes I am talking to the ladies here!) please download my free prostate report here