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Cancer screening ‘a must’

Robert Brader. PHOTO/FILE

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New Zealand men are being diagnosed with prostate cancer later in life, and with a higher grade of the disease than men in the United States, a recently-released study shows.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, especially over 50, and kills about 600 New Zealanders a year.

Robert Brader heads the Wairarapa prostate cancer support group and believes the statistics would be better if there was a national screening programme.

Dr Nishi Karunasinghe and colleagues from the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre compared prostate cancer data from New Zealand and the US, which showed Kiwis are being diagnosed with prostate cancer up to four years later than Americans.

There are two ways of testing for prostate cancer – a digital rectal examination, and a blood test that looks for prostate specific antigen.

The mean age for detection in New Zealand men is 66, and Brader’s advice is for any men around that age to get both.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000 but says he’s “good as gold” these days.

The lack of national screening programme remains an issue.

“Everybody’s tried and tried and tried, but no joy.

“Through my own experience, it would be a hell of a lot better if everybody was screened.”

Brader sought a diagnosis after hearing about his friend’s symptoms and treatment.

“I thought, ‘Jeez, I better get checked’.”

Perceptions of the digital test may be unpopular, but Brader said he had not come across a man thinking about prostate cancer who was put off by the notion.

“They all want the best they can get.

“I believe in getting something done about it.”

Health Ministry cancer services manager Dawn Wilson said Parliament’s Health Select Committee recommended against establishing a national population screening programme in 2011.

“It concluded that while PSA testing saves some lives, the known side effects of further investigation and treatment outweigh the benefits.”

Side effects can include impotence, incontinence, and gastrointestinal complications.

“Finding it early can save lives, but not all prostate cancer needs to be treated.

“Whether to screen or not should be based on informed individual decision-making.”

The Cancer Society’s Wairarapa centre manager, Jacinta Buchanan, said the report’s finding of a mean diagnosis for Kiwi men at 66 was better than going undiagnosed, and without a national screening programme in place, the result was pretty good.

“It means whoever the GPs were whose patients were involved in this research, they were asking the questions when the men went to the doctor.”

Buchanan said New Zealand did not have a screening programme because there was no specific test for cancer in the prostate gland.

She said PSA was an antigen present when there are low grade infections or other reasons that may not be cancer, but it could indicate unusual activity going on in the gland.

“It’s a signal or an alert that person may need to be monitored or retested.”

The ministry has made strong suggestions around what it would like GPs to do to assess a patient for the cancer and a website for men with questions around prostate cancer was launched
this year.

Buchanan said assessing men for prostate cancer had always been the challenge for New Zealand.

“The GP would have to be motivated or have a reason to do that, because it’s not mandatory in New Zealand.

“We’re still grappling with what would be the best way to go about making men safe from prostate cancer.”

Those wondering if they should get checked can visit kupe.net.nz and answer a few simple questions to help decide whether they should see their GP about prostate cancer.

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