The chat that can save your man's life
According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, one in every nine Australian men suffers from this disease, which claims the lives of almost 3300 men a year. What's truly disturbing about such statistics, however, is that if detected early, prostate cancer can be treated. Yet men still shy away from raising the issue of prostate disease – as well as testicular cancer and other issues to do with their "plumbing" – with loved ones and their doctors. According to research conducted by the foundation, only 10 per cent of men between 50 and 70 get tested for prostate cancer.
It's a similar story with testicular cancer, a killer that almost 700 Australian men are diagnosed with each year, half of them under 35.We have the medical technology to treat both diseases, but tough, burly Aussie blokes are too shy or embarrassed to bring up any problems they may be having "down there". Unfortunately, this silence can be deadly.
The role of partners
Often, women are the ones who get their men to take action. Dr Anthony Lowe, CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, says that in initially raising the issue, two tactics can prove valuable. "First, men need to understand that in many cases, there are no symptoms of prostate cancer,"he says. "Waiting until these appear is a mistake many people make. Men can be jolted into action by realising that they may already have cancer but not know it."
Lowe also advocates drawing your loved one's attention to the fact that many of the roughest, toughest, manliest men around have not only dealt with the disease but spoken of their battle publicly. We're talking footballer Sam Newman, actor Robert De Niro and even James Bond himself, Roger Moore.
An annual event
Describing women as "the health managers" of families, Lowe encourages them to bring up the prostate check as simply part of an annual medical examination. By making this a routine element of the yearly visit, along with cholesterol monitoring and so on, it removes much of the stigma many men associate with the subject.
Lowe says that when it comes to dealing with diseases like testicular cancer and prostate issues – or anything in the genital area for that matter – "men just need to get over the idea that this is somehow embarrassing when it is actually lifesaving".
One of the blunter ways that women can help the men they love get checked is by playing the "wuss" card. "Women go through so much worse during examinations like pap smears and mammograms and their example can be a powerful tool in helping men do the same," Lowe says. "In a sense, they're saying if I can do this for the sake of my health, so can you."
Lowe says many Australian men are hesitant about having themselves checked for prostate cancer as one of the testing methods is a digital rectal exam. Digital in the finger sense, not the technology sense. "What a lot of men don't realise is that you can have a PSA blood test to scan for prostate cancer as part of your annual battery of checks," Lowe says.
Lowe adds that in many cases, it's loved ones who make men aware of this option. Men often think the traditional digital method is the only test – a notion they're so uncomfortable with that they put it off for a dangerous number of years. "Although we recommend having both tests, what we say is that if a man is threatened by a digital exam, he should be made aware that there is a blood test he can and should take."
The boys club
Lowe says one of the keys to men getting earlier treatment for "down there" diseases lies in getting other men to talk about it. "This is a particularly tough challenge as the Australian male stereotype is one of stoicism and not whingeing," he says. "But this is not about either of those things."
Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, is one high-profile Australian who has spoken out about the disease. Swan lost his father to prostate cancer then was diagnosed with the disease 12 years later. "I'm still alive, and my children still have a father, because I was diagnosed with a blood test," he says.
Says Lowe: "Men need to raise the subject with their mates. The more they do so, the longer their mates will be around. It’s that simple."