Breaking the stigma around male cancers
Stigma is one of the most common reasons men with cancer do not receive treatment and support.
Dr Marion Morkel, chief medical officer at Sanlam, explains that the idea of being diagnosed with a condition like cancer is viewed as a weakness, which makes men reluctant to get tested. She suggests that the only way to fight this stigma is to encourage the men in your life to go for their yearly check-ups to prevent a late diagnosis.
Morkel notes that correct and regular screening could be the difference between stopping cancer before it even happens, and living with a diagnosis that may affect your ability to work and sadly, your longevity.
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), the “Big 5” cancers affecting South African men are:
- Prostate cancer (one in 17)
- Colorectal cancer (one in 76)
- Lung cancer (one in 77)
- Bladder cancer (one in 158)
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (one in 160)
Morkel discusses the screenings men should have done at various ages:
Prostate cancer: This screening is done with a blood test called the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test to help detect prostate abnormalities. Cansa recommends talking to a doctor about screening by age 45, or sooner if you have a family history.
Colorectal cancer: Men are recommended to go for tests such as a colonoscopy or a sigmoidoscopy from age 50 years and then every 10 years. They are advised to go sooner if there is a change in bowel habits or a strong family history of colorectal cancer.
Lung cancer: If you are older than 50 years with a history of smoking and or chronic obstructive airways disease, consult your doctor about screening. Screening may include examining the lungs with a fibre optic telescope or sputum analysis in a laboratory for cancer cells.
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: Screening is recommended from 40 years of age and involves a doctor performing a physical exam and checking the body for swollen lymph nodes. A biopsy of suspect tissue (usually a lymph node biopsy) will be done. A bone marrow biopsy may also be done.
Bladder cancer: There is no screening for bladder cancer. Screening is based on symptoms (which include, pain on urination, poor flow, or blood in the urine). Screening may include biopsy, cystoscopy, and urine analysis.
Testicular cancer: Testicular self-examination is an easy way for men to check their testicles, to make sure they do not feel any unusual lump or bump. Doctors recommend that men do this monthly. This should be done from puberty. Testicular cancer is most common in males ages 15 - 49.
Regarding the costs associated with the treatment of male cancer, Morkel says that it is highly dependent on the type and stage of cancer, and could range from thousands to hundreds of thousands of rand.
Items that increase the costs of cancer include the type of chemotherapy needed, radiotherapy (which is highly effective for prostate cancer) and surgery, which is dependent on the site and size of a tumour.
Morkel says that in the case of surgery, the first step of treatment is to have the tumour removed, which results in theatre costs, hospitalisation costs and specialists’ costs.