Wildly varying views amongst New Zealand GPs on the need for prostate cancer tests is having a shocking impact on the health of Kiwi men, with advocates, experts, survivors and grieving families pleading for change.
One in eight Kiwi men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime, with one man diagnosed every three hours and one or more dying every day. Risk also increases up to 11 times if two or more first-degree relatives were diagnosed with prostate cancer under the age of 65 years.
In the absence of formal screening programmes or enforced guidelines around the most frequently diagnosed cancer amongst Kiwi men, currently GPs are tasked with deciding when, how and to what extent they test their patients.
Prostate Cancer Foundation CEO Graeme Woodside says the reality of this inconsistency is taking a heart-breaking toll on men, many of whom are desperately, and proactively, seeking a test.
"Kiwi men are facing an even bigger challenge than going through treatment for prostate cancer - the challenge of being tested in the first place," says Graeme.
"We receive at least five calls or emails every week from men who have been turned down or turned away from their GP when they asked for a test. In many cases these men have gone to see two or three GPs with no luck."
"By the time some men are tested and diagnosed, their treatment options have diminished, and they are left feeling ripped off by the very experts they trust to look after their health. It’s nothing short of a traumatic and unnecessary experience that is costing lives."
The PSA test, while not failsafe, is the best quick and easy test for prostate cancer and there are clear guidelines how it should be used. Increasingly men are becoming aware of the need to get health checks, including being tested for prostate cancer and so GPs need to take a proactive approach to men’s health.
A survey amongst 507 New Zealand prostate cancer survivors has exposed alarming insights into the depth of the issue in this country.
6 in 10 survivors had no symptoms at all when diagnosed with prostate cancer.
37% had an immediate male relative who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
29% said their GP did not ask them about having a test or suggest they have a test.
Graeme says the combination of few or no symptoms, possible genetic link and testing inconsistency is a recipe for a men’s health disaster unless GPs take a more proactive approach to prostate cancer testing. Simply asking about symptoms and making a decision to order a PSA test on that basis is inadequate.
"We are doing our part in making men aware of the risk of contracting prostate cancer through promotions such as Blue September" says Graeme, "but our efforts need to be reciprocated by GPs."
"There are many GPs who are taking big strides forward around improving the frequency and vigilance of testing their patients but we have a long way to go."
Auckland-based GP Dr Ajay Makal says "it's well known internationally that men generally see their doctor less often than women, and that seeing a doctor can be seen as a sign of weakness. This has potential consequences of delayed presentation with diseases."
"A simple blood test and examination by a GP, especially in the high risk group, would help identify prostate disease and cancer early and would help making informed decision on how to manage," says Dr Ajay.
Blue September - have a ‘Blue Do’!
From funding ground-breaking research to hosting support groups nationwide, every dollar counts this Blue September.
Create your own ‘Blue Do’ social fundraising event - a golf day, blokes BBQ, girls’ night out, dress up day at the office or anything you like that brings people together.
Go to www.blueseptember.org.nz to find out how to put on your own ‘Blue Do’ and donate to join the fight against prostate cancer.