The way in which men deal with feeling ill, however, may have a very real impact on their life expectancy. Avoiding the doctor or failing to improve their overall health â?? something of which men seem to be particularly guilty â?? can severely hinder their recovery.

â??June is Menâ??s Health Month â?? the perfect time for men to focus on how self-care, a healthy lifestyle and willingness to visit a healthcare professional when needed, can help improve their health,â? says Allison Vienings, Executive Director of the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa.

She says that the average life expectancy at birth for South African men according to Stats SA 2013 was 58 â?? four years less compared to the average woman. And this is just the tip of the iceberg for men, who statistically need to take extra care if they are to improve their life expectancy:

  • In 2008, 302 744 men died in South Africa â?? 14 203 more than women

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  • One in five men smoke compared to one in seven women, with a resulting increased chance of developing lung cancer

  • An estimated 4 345 new cases of prostate cancer were reported in South Africa in 2005

Prostate cancer

While both sexes are equally prone to flu, men face a disease unique to them â?? prostate cancer, the most common form of cancer among South African males.

The symptoms

Symptoms often associated with prostate cancer include the inability to urinate, painful urination, blood in urine or semen, and frequent pain in the lower back.

Diagnosis

â??Some men find it hard to visit a doctor even for a minor illness or a regular check-up, so the thought of having to see a doctor for a possible cancer diagnosis is a daunting and stressful one,â? says Vienings.

By equipping himself with knowledge of what to expect before an appointment, he may feel more at ease when the time comes for a screening. An initial prostate examination usually begins with the doctor asking about his personal and medical history, followed by a physical examination which can include:

  • A digital rectal examination (DRE), during which the doctor examines the prostate through the rectal wall to check for hard or lumpy areas

  • A urine test to check for blood/infection

  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test

What is a Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test?

Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) is a substance made by cells in the prostate gland and can be found in semen and blood. Healthy men usually have levels of under 4 nanograms per ml of blood. As the PSA level increases, so does the risk of prostate cancer. One way of testing PSA levels is through a PSA test kit.

The test involves a finger prick blood test (R25 â?? R50 per test) and does not diagnose prostate cancer, but merely serves as a means to test for high PSA levels. A patient will then be referred to their doctor for more testing if the PSA levels are high. A PSA level that is lower than four does not necessarily mean that he is cancer-free. Factors other than prostate cancer exist that can cause an increase in PSA levels such as:

  • Age

  • Ejaculation

  • Using medicines that raise hormone levels

PSA test kits are available at selected pharmacies nationally.

Treatment and preventative measures

When deciding on the best treatment, doctors take into consideration the stage of cancer, age of the patient as well as other health factors. The more precise your diagnosis, the more specific the treatment will be. Prostate cancer will usually follow the path of surgery, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy and sometimes chemotherapy. Each case is unique and the doctor will determine which option is best.

Encouraging the men in your life to make smart choices when it comes to their health can help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. â??Three simple and achievable steps such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding trans fat and processed meat and incorporating omega-3 fats and tomatoes in his diet are all proactive measure for preventing prostate cancer and taking care of a manâ??s overall health,” says Vienings.

SMASA urges men to visit their nearest doctor, clinic or healthcare professional for a screening or a regular check-up if he has any of the symptoms associated with prostate cancer.

Recommended reading: Does he know what the early signs of testicular cancer are?

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.