The study found that overall levels of prostate cancer were the same, whether or not men took the cholesterol-busting pills. Picture: File photo
The study found that overall levels of prostate cancer were the same, whether or not men took the cholesterol-busting pills. Picture: File photo

Male cancer under the spotlight this November as medical experts urge men to get screened

By Norman Cloete Time of article published Nov 20, 2021

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Johannesburg - With November marking Men’s Health Awareness month, it serves as a timely reminder to drive more conversation towards the increasing prevalence of male cancers.

Global research reveals prostate cancer as the second most frequent of cancers that males suffer from after lung cancer, and the fifth leading cause of cancer death among men in 2020.

In SA, the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) head of services, Gerda Strauss, said one in 16 South African men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

“International and local research indicates that the risk for aggressive prostate cancer is higher in black African men. It’s vital to note that prostate cancer tends to run in families. Cansa encourages men to get to know their family history of cancer and symptoms, not delaying age-appropriate prostate screening, as many men die unnecessarily from the disease due to late diagnosis,” she said.

Prostate cancer is detectable with a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test. PSA is a normal enzyme produced by the glandular tissue of the prostate. It’s always present in the blood; however, a reading of three or higher may indicate inflammation of the prostate or even cancer. If a father, brother or son has had prostate cancer, he needs to encourage other males in his family to go for check-ups from at least 40, due to their higher risk of the disease. If their mother, grandmothers, sisters or aunts had breast cancer, this is also a risk factor. Strauss said there is a relationship between a diet high in animal fat and protein (especially red meat) and prostate cancer.

Sons whose fathers have not had prostate cancer should encourage their fathers to go for regular PSA tests from the age of 45, as well as grandfathers, uncles, family friends, neighbours or even colleagues. Patients with medical aid benefits can claim from their medical aids once they have paid for the screening. Testing can also be done via local health clinics or health-care practitioners if you present with symptoms.

Professor Riana Bornman, senior research professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, said it’s important for men to go for an annual prostate screening as it improves the chances of detecting prostate cancer in the early stages before it has spread outside the prostate.

“Well-established risk factors for prostate cancer include older age, family history of the disease and African ancestry. Screening should start from the age of 45 year, but it should start from the age of 40 in black African men and in men who have a family history of prostate and/or breast cancer in a first-degree relative.”

Meanwhile, insurance giant Old Mutual said that according to its personal cover claim statistics, 2020 saw a 6.5% increase in the overall number of cancer claims in men across all claim categories year on year. Cancer and tumours ranked as a leading illness within the severe illness category, second only to cardiovascular disorders.

“Our overall experience with cancer in males within the severe illness claim category shows that prostate and testicular cancer claims accounted for 17% of all cancer claims in 2020, with prostate cancer making up the lion’s share at 96%,” said John Kotze, retail protection product head.

Surprisingly, the group’s claims statistics also revealed a drop in the number of testicular cancer claims, which Kotze said could be a result of increased early detection of this type of cancer.

“Men’s Health Awareness Month is a welcome reminder to men around the world to take better care of their health and their bodies. Although male cancers are seen as an illness usually associated with older men, it is important to remember that genes, family history and race are all risk factors that cannot be helped and may cause cancers to develop at an earlier age.”

In 2020, the company paid out illness insurance claims to the value of R871 million. Respiratory system disorder claims shot up by 61%, while cancer and tumours (23%), cardiovascular diseases (19%) and accidental death (19%) remained the top three causes of death claims paid. Kotze said the sharp rise in the number of people claiming for respiratory system disorders (60%) under death cover was mostly attributed to the widespread Covid-19 infections.

PSA tests are available by appointment at Cansa Care Centres nationwide for R180.

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