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Let’s talk prostate cancer, wake up Zimbabwean men

AS I celebrate my birthday today, I am proud of my achievements and efforts as a radiation therapist in the fight against cancer, in a country where the disease seems to be the untold story. I am not here to announce my birthday really. Today is the perfect time for a wake-up call to all the men across Zimbabwe.

It’s that time of the year again when everyone is busy preparing for the famous breast cancer awareness month, where the country goes pink. It is common tradition in Zimbabwe that in October, people seem to be busy observing the breast cancer month, and then shift focus the next month and only wait to reignite the conversation the next October.

Let me remind the nation that cancer does not wait, neither should we. Cancer awareness should be carried out throughout the year. Each month of the year, one cancer or another will be on awareness worldwide and September is dedicated to raising awareness of various cancers, on which prostate cancer is one of them.

Almost often, prostate cancer is the number one cancer affecting Zimbabwean men and that’s a cause for concern. With this in mind, Talk Cancer Zim aims to bring people’s attention to prostate cancer and raise its awareness this September. So, let’s talk prostate cancer.

There are thousands of families dealing with prostate cancer globally. One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. Statistics show that worldwide, every three minutes a man is diagnosed with prostate cancer and every 17 minutes, a man dies from it.

In Zimbabwe, it is the number one cancer affecting our men, husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles and friends. So we definitely can’t turn a blind eye to it, and hence our men need a wake-up call.

The good news about prostate cancer is that it is usually treatable — if detected early. It is not only heartbreaking, but often an avoidable tragedy when one finds out that they have prostate cancer when it is a little bit too late to be successfully treated.

I want to take this opportunity to remind Zimbabwean men of the importance of regular check-ups and prostate cancer screening.

I believe in the old ways of doing things: prevention is better than cure and early detection and treatment saves lives.

Over the years, I have figured that men don’t really fancy paying a visit to the doctor and they don’t share their feelings.

Many men do not have conversations with doctors about the risks they face if they are diagnosed with prostate cancer.

No one knows if or when they will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Men need to understand the risk they face, which may help them take preventive measures to reduce chances of being diagnosed with the disease. While the causes of prostate cancer are not known, a number of factors can increase your risk of being diagnosed with the condition.

These are:

  • Increasing age — As men grow older, chances of getting prostate cancer increase, while only one in 10 000 men under 40 will develop prostate cancer. One in 15 men in their 60s will be diagnosed of cancer
  • Ethnic group — common in men of African, Caribbean and African descent
  • Family history — having a father or brother who had prostate cancer increases the risk twice, or even a female relative who had breast cancer
  • Diet — high in saturated fat and calcium and low in fresh fruits and vegetables 
  • Hormonal factors — too much testesterone levels predispose one to a high risk of developing prostate cancer
  • Other conditions — prostate intraepithelial neoplasia, a condition when gland looks abnormal
  • It is important to know that screening may help detect prostate cancer early before the following symptoms occur
  • Burning sensation or pain during urination
  • Difficulty urinating or trouble starting or stopping urination
  • More frequent urge to urinate at night
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Decreased flow or velocity of urine stream
  • Blood in urine and semen
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Painful ejaculation

These may not be apparent in early stages of the disease. Symptoms of prostate cancer differ from one man to another and any one of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions.

As a result, routine screening in the form of a digital rectal examination and PSA [protein specific antigen] test are important.

Diagnostic tools and procedures have advanced to a point where prostate cancer can even be predicted before symptoms even show up.

My concern, though, is that are these readily available locally and affordable?

It’s sad that many men do not really know much about them. This is one crucial gap that we are advocating for.

There is real need for accessible and cost-effective prostate cancer screening services for men in Zimbabwe.

It is also important to note that early detection demands education and reaching the men who need it requires not just educating guys of a certain age, it means reaching their spouses, children, friends and other family members.

It requires creating a culture where everyone knows that an annual routine conversation with a doctor including shared decision-making about PSA tests and digital rectal examination could save a man’s life.

I know that most men can spend a great deal of time researching which new car to buy, but spend less time on life-altering decisions.

I would also like to urge you to consider visiting a doctor if you have been experiencing the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer that I have talked about above.

I would like to urge you to go for prostate cancer screening, which  is advised for men at the age of 50, but if cancer runs in your family screening may start earlier on, say at age 40.

Last but not least, consider lifestyle changes including healthy diet and exercise, limiting alcoholic beverages for a healthy prostate.

This September, we can make this day the start of a revitalised focus, the kick-off of a campaign to ensure that men are protected.

We can change the conversation and make Zimbabwe a  leader in combating prostate cancer through education and early detection.

We are committed to saving lives throughout September and beyond.

As the founder and president of the Talk Cancer Zim Trust, I call upon government, policymakers, the corporate world, health professionals, cancer stakeholders and cancer survivors/patients and the nation at large to work together in the fight against prostate cancer.

Men’s health matters too! Wake up Zimbabwean men, let’s talk prostate cancer.

Together we can fight this.

Michelle Chishamiso Madzudzo is the founder and chief executive officer of Talk Cancer Zim. She is a radiation therapist by profession.

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