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World Cancer Day: its time to man up when it comes to your health

02 February 2022 Hollard

“The fact that us males see our physicians five times fewer in our lives than females do is definitely one of the reasons why we are more likely to die from cancer.” This is according to Professor Shingai Mutambirwa, Head of Department of Urology at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) in Pretoria and perhaps starts to explain why the number of men being diagnosed with late-stage cancer is on the increase.

“Basically, guys don’t take their health as seriously as females do,” he says. “And given that the two leading causes of death worldwide are cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, and cancer, this is something that needs to be addressed”.

CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), Andrew Oberholzer, adds that this unfortunate reality is something that his organisation is trying hard to address. “For many men there is just a sense of apathy when it comes to health issues. They tend to wait until things start going wrong before they seek help,” he says

“This is a big problem, as many diseases such as high blood pressure and prostate cancer have no symptoms in the early stages. By the time that there are symptoms from prostate cancer, the disease may have progressed to a stage where it is no longer curable,” he says.

Women and men have similar survival outcomes until about the age of 60, after which men’s outcomes start deteriorating. According to Prof Mutambirwa, this can, in part, be attributed to the fact that men are just more reluctant to have health check-ups than women.

He says the “tough guy” mentality, combined with the behavior of only getting something checked once there is a lump, bump or pain, needs to change.

Gerda Strauss, Head of Services at the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) agrees and says that while the underlying reasons for this may differ culturally and socio-economically, South African men across the board tend to be hesitant when it comes to checks and screening.

She says that their internal stats show that of those benefitting from CANSA’s screening and awareness events annually, 81% are women and 19% are men. “Early detection saves lives and ignorance definitely leads to late diagnosis,” she says.

According to Professor Mutambirwa, who is also a founding member of PCF, men whose prostate cancer is detected early have a 95% chance of being cured and will have a similar life expectancy to someone without the cancer.

Oberholzer explains that an additional challenge is that many men are simply not aware of the age and risk recommendations for prostate cancer screening, which is one of the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s key focus areas. African men and men who have a family history of prostate and/or breast cancer in a first degree relative need to get screened annually from the age of 40. All men over the age of 45 need to be screened annually.

Men of all cultures also seem to have developed a serious fear of the digital rectal examination, commonly known as “the finger”. “We still recommend it, together with a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test, but if this is really a barrier to screening, then men should at least go for the PSA blood test every year,” Oberholzer says.

The incidence of testicular cancer, a cancer that primarily affects young men between the age of 15-40 years, has doubled in the last 50 years. Once again, early detection and knowing the risks is key. Men from the age 15 to 49 years need to examine their testicles each month, to feel for any pea-sized lumps that could indicate testicular cancer. Fortunately, there seems to be a lot more awareness about testicular cancer than a decade ago, which Oberholzer hopes has led to more boys and men performing testicular self-examinations.

WOMEN CAN HELP MEN TO “MAN UP”
Prof Mutambirwa says that women have a powerful role to play in upping levels of awareness when it comes to so-called “male” cancers such as testicular and prostate cancer. “We need to continue targeting mothers and female partners to encourage their sons and male partners to talk about general health and sexual health. We need women to talk to their men about getting checked for cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as cancers such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer and colorectal cancer which is also rising in men” Prof Murtambirwa says.
“If men cannot take care of their own health, women need to intervene to save lives” he says.

Gerda reiterates this and says that there needs to be an open relationship between boys and mothers when it comes to their bodies. “Teenage boys need to be told accurate and factual information, and they need to be able to identify the warning signs of testicular cancer specifically,” she says.

While any education about health issues is beneficial, Oberholzer emphasises the importance of parents educating themselves before they educate their children about health issues. “Relying on information that is passed down from generation to generation is not always a good thing when it comes to health issues, as this information may not be scientifically accurate. There is a plethora of information on the internet, but not all of it is scientifically accurate, so again, ensure that whatever information is passed on is from a credible source,” he says.

The need for education, combined with the fact that many men lack access to screening, makes events such as the Hollard Daredevil Run and other cancer awareness initiatives so important (the annual event raises awareness about prostate and testicular cancer with all proceeds given to CANSA and the Prostate Cancer Foundation to address some of these challenges.)

“I think the output from these types of initiatives have definitely made a change. Because of these events, we have seen many hits on our Prostate Cancer Foundation website and have had many enquiries, both from within the public and private sector. They have a massive impact,” says Prof Mutambirwa.

Says Heidi Brauer, Hollard’s Chief Marketing Officer, “As a wife and a mom to two sons, the Daredevil Run has really opened my eyes to the importance of women’s role in getting the men in their lives to take a much more active role in their own health. As women, we’ve had it drilled into us that regular testing for cancer is so, so important – now we need to make sure that men know it too. For their better futures and ours”.

“Some men seem to think that seeing a healthcare professional means that they are weak. If anything, taking ownership of your health should be viewed as a sign of maturity,” says Oberholzer.

This World Cancer Day, schedule your annual PSA test and talk to your sons about regular testicular self-examinations. For more information, go to https://prostate-ca.co.za/ and https://cansa.org.za/. Follow Daredevil Run on Facebook to keep up to date with information about what is in store this year.

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