Men’s health month is a fitting reminder that early detection of prostate cancer starts with being aware of our general prostate health. Given that prostate cancer grows slowly, by the time men experience symptoms, the cancer may already be advanced. In line with the South African National Integrated Men’s Health Strategy 2020-2025, the Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness encourages all men aged 50 and older to undergo annual prostate screenings at our healthcare facilities, especially if there is a family history of cancer.
The exact prevalence for prostate cancer in the Western Cape is not known, but according to 2019 data from Statistics South Africa, it is now the most common diagnosed cancer under males in the country, at 25,3% of all cancers.
“While there is no national-level screening programme for this cancer, survival rates improve with early detection of this disease. Quality of life also improves with early diagnosis, as the patient might avoid extensive treatment and surgery,” said Dr Hilary Goeiman, Director of Services Priority Coordination at the Department.
Prostate cancer does not usually cause any symptoms until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the penis. Experts do not know what causes it, but the risk increases with age.
According to Dr Pieter Spies, a Urologist at Tygerberg Hospital, the largest public health facility in the province, prostate cancer is a serious disease. Over the past three years, the average age of men diagnosed with prostate cancer at the hospital was 66, ranging from 43-90 years.
“The reasons for this are multifactorial. We are seeing an increase in the number of patients being diagnosed but sadly, also a significant increase in deaths from prostate cancer. Patients still present very late with prostate cancer diagnosis. At Tygerberg Hospital, 39% of all new prostate cancer diagnosis are already non-curable due to the advanced stage of the disease. If we compare this to the 4-8% incidence of non-curable disease at diagnosis in the United Kingdom and United States, we are still very far behind in picking up prostate cancer early,” said Dr Spies.
Men should seek urgent medical assistance if they have difficulty starting and maintaining urination, a frequent urge to urinate, especially at night, or a weak urine stream.