It’s that time of year when previously smooth-lipped gents start sprouting proud lip lapas and women around the country brace themselves for fresh new batches of facial hair to appear in all shapes and sizes on their fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, sons and male friends.  It’s Movember in sunny South Africa and the boys have come out to play.

Why the facial hair shenanigans?

Movember is about more than just handlebars, soul patches, side bars and walruses – it’s about increasing the life expectancy of South African men. The state of men’s health in our country is in crisis. Men experience worse longer-term health than women and die on average six years earlier. Prostate cancer rates are poised to double in the next 15 years, while testicular cancer rates have already doubled in the last 50. Three quarters of reported suicides are committed by men. Poor mental health leads to half a million men taking their own life every year – that’s one every minute.

 

These are frightening statistics, which is why organisations like the Men’s Foundation of South Africa seek to create awareness and start important conversations about difficult topics that tend to be swept under the collective rug by generations of men who have been brought up to grin and bear it. Topics like prostate cancer.

If you just heard a business-like snap of a surgical glove and flinched involuntary when you read the word ‘prostate’, you are not alone. There is not a man alive who looks forward to a visit to the urologist. However, when statistics show that 80% of men over the age of 80 have prostate cancer, it’s clear that it is something that needs to be addressed.

PSA blood test vs rectal exam (do you have to?)

According to Dr Jörn Malan, a Clinical and Radiation Oncologist at the Cancercare, all men should have a PSA blood test at least once a year from the time they turn 50, or as early as 40 if they have a history of prostate cancer in the family – but not just the blood test, a rectal examination is just as important.

“The PSA blood test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen, a protein produced by both cancerous and non-cancerous tissue in the prostate. The higher the count, the more suspicious it is, but one must also be aware that one can have a cancer with a normal PSA count, and this is why the rectal examination by the GP or Urologist is just as important as doing the PSA,” says Dr Malan.

How can you tell is something is up downstairs?

“The symptoms of prostate cancer are often confused for ‘normal’, age-related bodily changes,” explains Dr Malan. “It is generally related to pressure. As a tumour grows, it puts pressure on the bladder pipe, which means your urine stream will be slower, you may need to ‘push’ to get a stream going and you may be waking up more to urinate at night. It can also cause poor erections and impotence – all things that men tend to expect as they grow older.”

What can you do to lessen your risk of prostate cancer?

While there are certain ethnic demographics who statistically have a higher likelihood of getting prostate cancer, and a lifestyle featuring a balanced diet and frequent exercise will improve your overall health and ability to heal, Dr Malan is of the opinion that there are only two things that really make a difference. “Don’t smoke and see your GP or Urologist for regular screening.”

It’s as simple as that. As with most things in life, knowledge is power. Make your health a priority and give yourself the opportunity to be around for your loved ones – include urologist appointments in your annual screenings and be vocal about the importance thereof around your male friends. Surely a small amount of discomfort is worth a few more seasons in the sun?

Article by: Dr Jörn Malan, a Clinical and Radiation Oncologist at Cancercare.