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DURING Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, the topic of testing always enters the conversation.
The topic is commonly misunderstood by the public, which leads to fear and confusion.
Even within the medical community, there is little agreement, especially on an international scale.
We at Hunter Prostate Cancer Alliance (HPCA) advocate making an informed choice for any health matter, such as testing and treatment.
To help reach consensus on the issue, a statement was issued by experts from the Prostate Cancer World Congress held in Melbourne recently.
The first of interest is Statement 4: “Baseline PSA testing for men in their 40s is useful for predicting the future risk of prostate cancer.”
This highlights the need for men to firstly take the test, beginning at age 40.
We believe this is a good regular habit to get in to, and should be included as part of a man’s annual health check.
That itself is a challenge, as many men do not even have a regular doctor.
We strongly recommend everybody has a relationship with their GP, and not just see them when they get sick.
Although prostate cancer testing is not all about the PSA test, the simple blood test is the first line of defence towards early detection.
This leads to Statement 3: “PSA testing should not be considered on its own, but rather as part of a multivariable approach to early prostate cancer detection.”
We certainly agree that PSA testing in itself is not enough information to decide if you have cancer or not.
Specialists bring together a range of factors to predict a man’s risk for prostate cancer, with the PSA test one part of that puzzle.
Further testing, such as a digital rectal examination, and even a biopsy may even be needed to clarify the risk.
As uncomfortable as it sounds, this extra step can literally save your life.
Often overlooked, the testing process also includes interpreting the results and if diagnosed, what treatment option is recommended.
One of the main arguments against testing is that men can be led to unnecessary and aggressive treatment for their situation.
It is understandable that a man reacts with shock when told they have cancer, and immediately chooses to take the prostate out – without due consideration to side effects and complications.
This is described in the expert Statement 2: “Prostate cancer diagnosis must be uncoupled from prostate cancer intervention.”
It is a delicate balance where all treatment options should be explored, and pros and cons understood.
Ultimately, both the patient and the medical team need to be confident in the decided strategy.
For more information about the Prostate Cancer World Congress statements, or anything about the prostate, HPCA offers a free information and counselling service for local men and their families.
We understand that prostate cancer can be a bit of a taboo topic, but it is encouraging to see more discussion about it worldwide.
For the sake of your family that you just celebrated Father’s Day with, please make informed decisions about your health, with the help of experts.
■ Cary Lee is the chief executive officer of Hunter Prostate Cancer Alliance. The alliance helpline is 1300 881 826.