Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: COVID-19 decreases GP check-ups

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, a disease Richard Harry was…

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: COVID-19 decreases GP check-ups

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, a disease Richard Harry was diagnosed with 10 years ago.

Prior to his diagnosis, Mr Harry, 76, had a slightly high result after a PSA test but at the time did not think much of it.

Four years later, then aged 66, a second PSA test quickly led to surgery after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“I knew nothing about prostate cancer at that point in time (14 years ago). I didn’t say to my doctor ‘why was my test high for my age?’ or ‘what can we do about it?’,” Mr Harry said.

“Now, we’re watching my PSA level — it’s still low but is starting to climb so there are cancers through my body … Although there’s no prostate there, there are still resemblances of it being in my system.

“One thing I try to do is advise other men to get themselves tested because I don’t want them going through what I went through. They need to take more control over their own health. It’s only a blood test.”

The Mount Gambier resident — who helped established a support group following his surgery — said a transperineal biopsy machine (TBM), which helps diagnose prostate cancer, was purchased to be used at Mount Gambier, Millicent and Naracoorte Hospitals in the state’s southeast.

Fundraising efforts from the Limestone Coast Prostate Cancer Support Group and about ten other stakeholders — including four local councils and the Male Bag Foundation — raised its target of $200,000 to buy the machine.

“It’s far safer on the patient and instead of having to travel to Adelaide to have their biopsies done, it can now be done locally,” Mr Harry said.

“It saves the cost of travel and the disruption to work and other commitments.”

Concerns about exposure to the coronavirus has seen more Australian men avoid visiting doctors for routine check-ups.

With September being Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, there are fresh calls for men to see their GPs.

Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia CEO Jeff Dunn said there was a 60 per cent drop in PSA testing nationally after the coronavirus first hit Australia.

“We are concerned that men may be putting off GP check-ups and vital testing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“Treatment delays and deferrals have been different across jurisdictions, with those in Victoria at higher risk because of the ongoing lockdown.”

“It’s important for people to continue routine check-ups and see their doctor with any symptoms or health concerns.

“With many Australian men and families impacted by prostate cancer in additional hardship right now, it’s vital that we support their physical and mental health.”

About 16,700 Australian men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, and more than 3100 will die from the disease.

Of those diagnosed, one in five experience long-term anxiety and depression and face a 70 per cent increased risk of suicide.

“Ordinarily we would expect to see about 46 men newly diagnosed each day. While we don’t have the data yet on how this (pandemic) has been impacted, we are working with health agencies to promote vigilance,” Professor Dunn said.

He said those undergoing cancer treatment had an increased risk of infections and while in some cases it may not be safe to continue treatment plans, new ones could be developed.

“Attending hospital for cancer treatment can also expose men to risk of COVID-19 and therefore it may be advisable to develop a revised treatment plan that can be delivered outside the hospital setting.

“It’s vital for men to talk to their doctor and discuss any treatment decisions so that they understand their options.”

In June, the federal government announced it was expanding its Prostate Cancer Nurses Program, investing $23million over the next three years.

Since its inception in 2013, the program has funded the recruitment, training and placement of prostate cancer nurses in 29 locations across the country.

The funding for the 2020-21 financial year will see nurses employed at 24 health services or cancer centres.

What are the symptoms?

While there may be no symptoms in the early stages, some that develop later include:

  • Feeling the frequent or sudden need to urinate
  • Finding it difficult to urinate
  • Discomfort when urinating
  • Finding blood in urine or semen
  • Pain in the lower back, upper thighs or hips.

If you experience these symptoms, see a GP.

What are the risk factors?

• Age: The chance of developing prostate cancer increases with age — at the age of 75, the prognosis is one in seven men and increases to one in six by the age of 85.

• Family History: Those with a first degree relative with prostate cancer have a higher chance of developing it than men with no such history. The risk also increases if more than one relative has prostate cancer or has relatives diagnosed when young.

• Diet: Some evidence suggests eating lots of processed meat or food that’s high in fat can increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.

• Lifestyle: There also is evidence that shows that environment and lifestyle can affect the risk of developing prostate cancer.

How is it detected and diagnosed?

• Blood test/Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test

• Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)

How can I reduce the risk?

• Aim to exercise at least 30 minutes every day

• Maintain a nutritious and well balanced diet

For more information or to donate, head to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia’s website.