PROSTATE CANCER UPDATE: THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT
Medical experts aren’t afraid of the most commonly diagnosed cancer facing Australian men – and you shouldn’t be either, writes Jaymie Hooper
By the time they reach 85 years old, one in five Australian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. It’s a scary statistic, but what if we told you the odds aren’t as ominous as they sound?
Despite the fact that prostate cancer currently claims more than 3000 lives in Australia each year, the mood among medical professionals isn’t one of despair; it’s one of hope.
“I’ve never seen more progress [ in prostate cancer research] than in the past five years,” Dr Phillip Stricker, chairman of the Department of Urology at St Vincent’s Private Hospital and Clinic in Sydney, says.
“Imaging is becoming much better, we’re seeing great advancements in the genetic understanding of cancer, and we’re going to see improvements in robotic surgery in every direction.”
THE RIGHT TEST
Typically a slow-developing disease, prostate cancer occurs when abnormal cells in a man’s prostate gland start to multiply uncontrollably.
In most cases, the cancer remains localised and isn’t life-threatening, and its symptoms ( such as frequent or difficult urination or blood in the urine or semen) never materialise.
Since current screening methods such as the prostate-specific antigen ( PSA) test aren’t able to detect cancer specifically, and sometimes give false positive results (which may lead to unnecessary biopsies and infections), one of the most confusing aspects of prostate cancer is when – and if – it should be treated.
Thanks to recent innovations, though, it’s getting easier to know when to act and when to wait. “We now use more sophisticated blood tests, such as the 4Kscore test, which is more accurate than a PSA and only picks up the worst kind of cancers,” Stricker says.
As well as this, scientists from the Queen Mary University of London are working on a similar blood test that could reveal whether a patient’s cancer is likely to spread. Since secondary cancers are one of the main reasons men die from prostate cancer, this test could mean doctors would be able to administer life-saving treatment far sooner.
While advances in prostate cancer research are good news, a diagnosis is a diagnosis nonetheless. Cancer is a frightening time for patients and their loved ones, but while it may feel overwhelming, the experts are there to guide the way.
“It’s not as simple as, ‘If you’ve got this, chop it out,’” Stricker explains. “These days, once we have a diagnosis of prostate cancer, we’ll have a long discussion with patients and their families about the different options.”
Given that treatment with surgery can lead to impotence or incontinence, a variety of factors such as the type of cancer a patient has, their personal priorities and their overall wellness are taken into consideration.
“If a patient is particularly scared about developing bowel problems, for example, then radiation might not be the best option for them,” Stricker explains.
Early detection remains the top priority for prostate cancer, but 40 per cent of men fail to book in for an annual check-up – and that’s where loved ones can help.
“Many men come in because they’re encouraged to by their partner,” Stricker says. So feel free to stick a not-so-subtle note on the fridge if your other half needs a nudge in the right direction.
Staying vigilant is key when it comes to tackling prostate cancer and, combined with the right research, it’s a disease that experts such as Stricker believe will soon no longer be something that men die from, but something they live through.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. For information or to donate, visit prostate.org.au