EVEN though one in eight men will get prostate cancer it’s a condition most of them prefer to ignore.
Like all cancers, the sooner it’s diagnosed, the greater the chance of successful treatment. Yet, too often, men put off seeking help until things have reached a stage where they can no longer be overlooked.
Covid has made the matter worse. Because of lockdowns and the need to isolate, far fewer men have come forward over the last two years so that prostate cancer now accounts for a substantial proportion of the treatment gap – that’s the difference between the number of patients starting treatment since the pandemic began compared with usual levels.
To remedy this, Prostate Cancer UK has launched an online risk-checker at https://prostatecanceruk.org/risk-checker.html to help men make an informed decision about seeing their GP.
One man who has had prostate cancer and lived to tell the tale is Tameside Council communications officer Mike Pavasovic. He was diagnosed in 2018, when he was 61, and had surgery the same year.
He said: “If my experience has taught me anything it’s that however much you might want to, you can’t simply pretend prostate cancer doesn’t exist or that it won’t affect you. I found I had it even though I’d always been very healthy and had no symptoms.
“Yet I have friends who are up in the night or have problems with urination who refuse to believe there could be anything wrong with them beyond being over 60.
“Nobody wants to have prostate cancer – and your symptoms may be the result of an infection or enlargement – but you can’t wish the problem away or dismiss it as something that only affects old men. The sooner it’s diagnosed the easier it is to treat.”
Mike’s condition became apparent after a blood test showed him to have raised levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigen) which is a good guide to the possible presence of cancer. An MRI scan and biopsy followed.
He added: “I’ve been part of the pub conversations about prostate examinations but they’re not as bad as legend would have them. I’d say they were unpleasant rather than unbearable.
“The most difficult thing for me was deciding which treatment to have. I was given the choice of surgery or radiotherapy, although the options differ from person to person and you could qualify for what they call watchful waiting.
“You’re given lots of information but it’s a decision only you can make. I chose prostate removal by robotic surgery and I’m glad I did.
“I spent one night in Stepping Hill Hospital and was never in any pain or in need of medication. Nearly four years on I have a twice-yearly blood test which will reduce to once a year in 2023 if I continue to be PSA-free. Side-effects cleared up quite quickly and the only thing that’s changed is that I no longer produce sperm. That’s not an issue for a man of my age.
“However, I want to stress that everyone’s different and they need to make their own choice based on what’s best for them and their circumstances.
“Following my operation I asked what would have happened if the cancer hadn’t been caught so quickly. The doctors said it may have taken 10 years for symptoms to appear and by that time my options would have been much reduced.
For anyone who’s diagnosed with prostate cancer or just wondering whether they should see their GP, Mike stresses the need to talk and get information.
He said: “As well as talking to your doctor I would highly recommend the Prostate Cancer UK helpline – 0800 074 8383. Their nurses are brilliant at calming worried men.
“If you have prostate cancer, there’s lots of help available and even some humour. To make sure there’s no chance of misunderstanding, things can be explained to you in the most basic terms. I used to find that hilarious when the woman concerned reminded me of my junior school teachers.”
Dr Lisa Gutteridge, CCG Governing Body GP member for Macmillan cancer, said: “Thank you so much Mike for sharing your powerful story to encourage more men to come forward if they have any concerns and seek advice from their GP practice.
“Prostate cancer mainly affects men over 50. Risk is higher for black men or men with a family history of prostate cancer from the age of 45. The risk checker provides clear and balanced information about the PSA test to help men decide whether to have a PSA test or not. Men who contact their GP for a consultation after taking the risk checker will therefore already have some understanding of the pros and cons of the PSA test. The PSA test is available free to any well man aged 50 and over who requests it.”
Dr Ashwin Ramachandra, co-chair at NHS Tameside and Glossop Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Due to the pandemic, referrals and treatments for prostate cancer dropped significantly, with men less likely to visit their GP to discuss prostate cancer. Latest statistics show this remains a significant problem. The NHS has prioritised cancer throughout the pandemic, reflected by the fact treatment levels have been back at 100% since Spring 2021 and referral levels have been at record highs.
“The risk checker highlights that if you have urinary symptoms, you should speak to your GP to find out what’s causing them. For men without symptoms (asymptomatic), the risk checker advises you to speak to your GP about their risk. Most GPs offer phone and video appointments, so you may not need to go in to the GP practice.”