Men over 40 should speak to their doctors about screening or prostate cancer, particularly if they have a family history of prostate or breast cancer Picture: Pexels

A growing problem among prostate cancer patients in South Africa is that they are not given balanced information on all the available treatment options for early prostate cancer. This means that they are often not being made aware of the potentially severe side-effects of some treatments.

This is the view of urologist and prostate cancer expert, Dr Greg Boustead, who is South Africa's most experienced robotic surgeon in prostate cancer treatment.

 Boustead who is Urological and Robotic Surgeon at Netcare Chris Barnard Memorial Hospital, Cape Town & Waterfall City Hospital in Midrand, urged all men diagnosed with prostate cancer to ensure that they are fully informed about all various treatments.

“If patients are uncertain they should seek a second opinion before deciding on their preferred treatment options,” he said.

As part of Men's Health Month, Boustead also called on all men to go for routine check ups of their prostates, because early detection of prostate cancer can make all the difference.

“We are hearing increasing numbers of stories from men with prostate cancer who are suffering side-effects from certain treatments. Sometimes, ironically, the pain and problems from the treatment can be even worse than the cancer itself,” said Boustead.

“Some report how unprepared they are for the side-effects of brachytherapy. After years of experience treating prostate cancer, I believe that brachytherapy – the implanting of radioactive seeds into the prostate to destroy the cancer – is being badly overused and even, in some cases, abused.

“A 2015 study by top South African urologist Professor Andre van der Merwe found that the use of brachytherapy in SA is 73 percent above the accepted norm, while other South African urologists are seeing similar – if not higher – overuse of this treatment.

“The overuse of brachytherapy in SA is way out of synch with the rest of the world. Brachytherapy is a valid treatment option for some men with early prostate cancer, but many patient remain unsuitable for this treatment modality. Prostate cancer patients should consider all their options – including active surveillance and robotic radical prostatectomy – when making a decision on treatment,” Boustead said.

“Robotic assisted radical prostatectomy offers excellent long term cure rates with recovery of continence rapidly and return of erectile function in a significant proportion of men. As opposed to open surgery is the least intrusive method and allows patients to be back in action after a few weeks.

According to Boustead, prostate cancer is the leading cancer in males: nearly one in five men will be diagnosed with the illness during their lifetime and, in South Africa, more than 4000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year.

“I would like the awareness created by Men’s Health Month to be a wake up call on men to take the time out to check their health.

“Many men remain undiagnosed or are diagnosed with advanced stages of the disease. They need to take responsibility for their health by having regular check ups including doing screening for cardiovascular risk factors and mental health. It is also crucial for men to ensure that they are more informed about prostate cancer and its risks.

“Men over 40 should speak to their doctors about screening or prostate cancer, particularly if they have a family history of prostate or breast cancer in their mothers or sisters, which would make them more at risk for prostate cancer. If you are a black African male, you are also at increased risk.”