An American cancer expert spent the weekend urging Caymanian men to get tested for prostate cancer, warning they may be more likely to develop the disease than men in other parts of the world.
Dr. Arthur Burnett, a urology professor at John Hopkins Hospital, Maryland, was invited to Cayman by former patient and prostate cancer survivor, John Felder.
Mr. Burnett said Caribbean men are 50 per cent more likely to develop prostate cancer than men in other parts of the world. It is thought that one in six Caribbean men develop potentially deadly prostate cancer.
‘We really don’t know why Caribbean men are more predisposed to prostate cancer. It may be both genes and environment that play roles,’ he said Saturday.
Mr. Burnett added that men with a family history of prostate cancer are also at a higher risk of developing the disease.
If detected early and treated, most men can go back to enjoying a similar quality of life to what they had before they developed the disease, he said.
Mr. Felder discovered he had prostate cancer when he was 61. He was one of the lucky few that had been keenly aware of the importance of early testing as the disease had affected other members of his family.
‘I call it the silent killer because when I was diagnosed, I had no symptoms,’ Mr. Felder said.
He said he hopes the visit will increase awareness about prostate cancer and save lives
Mr. Burnett told the congregation at John Grey Memorial Church, West Bay, that physicians generally recommend testing for men once they reach the 50. For men in high risk categories, such as Caribbean men and those with a family history of the disease, testing should begin at 40, he said.
There are two main screening tests for prostate cancer, Mr. Burnett explained; a prostate specific blood test (known as a Prostate Specific Antigen) and a Digital Rectal Examination.
Though less invasive, the PSA test is not always precise.
The DRE test involves a doctor examining the patient’s rectum, feeling the prostate. If something suspicious is felt, for instance hardness, the doctor may recommend a prostate biopsy. A biopsy can give a definitive answer to whether a patient has prostate cancer.
Though a digital rectum examination may be embarrassing, it can be life saving.
‘I’ve never heard of a man dying from a Digital Rectal Examination,’ Mr. Barnett said. ‘Sure, it’s embarrassing; it’s seemingly compromising; people say ‘I’m a man, I don’t want to bend over and have another man put his finger there’.
‘Believe me, I don’t take any delight in doing that sort of thing either; it doesn’t make my day to be feeling in somebody’s behind.
‘But at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to our patients and the patient has a responsibility to himself to say ‘let’s just get this thing done. If something is wrong, then I move forward and deal with it; if it’s not, I can get on with things’.’
If detected, not all prostate cancer requires treatment; in low risk cases, prostate cancer can simply be monitored. High profile prostate cancer – the type that can be deadly – can be treated in a number of ways, although having the prostate removed by surgery and radiation therapy are the two main treatments.
‘The data shows that if you have a high risk prostate cancer profile and you don’t get treated, you will succumb to the disease. If you get treated, the majority of men will do very well in the long term,’ Mr. Barnett said.
‘We are treating men successfully enough now that they will live their lives as if they had never had prostate cancer.
‘I’m down here to help with awareness and education. If I can help one man then I’ve made a difference.’
Mr. Barnett said some men are reluctant to think about prostate cancer because they are scared of the effect treatment will have on their sex lives.
‘It can impact on the man’s sexuality but, at the same time, you have to be alive to be sexually functional.
‘We have refined our techniques well enough now that men can often go back to being very functional again in that regard.’