Myths and male cancers

Research has shown that treatment of testicular cancer is 95% more likely to succeed if it is detected at an early stage. However, many men continue to underestimate the importance of regular screening, and neglect annual check-ups and ignore vital warning signs. Knowing the facts is half the battle won, but false information stands in the way of treating these diseases effectively.

Ahead of the Hollard Daredevil Run – taking place on 19 February 2016 across the country in an aim to raise awareness about male cancers – specialist urologists, Dr Prenevin Govender and Dr Bradley Wood, offer insight into the most common myths about male cancers:

Myth 1: There’s only one way to test for prostate cancer

Myth busted: While there is no replacement for the digital rectal exam, there are other less invasive tests that can be done first, such as the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test. This involves drawing a small amount of blood to measure the levels of gamma-seminoprotein (more commonly known as prostate-specific antigen).

“PSA is a very effective way to screen for prostate cancer, but one should never rely on this test alone. The PSA is an enzyme produced by the prostate gland and there are a number of factors which could cause it to become elevated,” says Dr Govender. “In other words, one can have a normal PSA and still have prostate cancer, while an elevated PSA doesn’t automatically mean prostate cancer.”

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“The PSA is often used together with a DRE to work out the probability of a prostate cancer diagnosis,” says Dr Wood. “However, it is not acceptable to have an annual PSA test done in place of a DRE. Aggressive prostate cancers may not show up through the PSA, but can be easily felt during a DRE.”

Myth 2: Prostate exams are painful

Myth busted: While digital rectal exams (DRE) are understandably intimidating, men do tend to make too big a deal of them, and it’s not at all as scary as legend would have you believe.

Knowing what to expect plays a huge role in putting those fears to bed. Dr Govender explains that the process is quick and relatively painless. The patient lies on his left side as the physician inserts a well-lubricated index finger a short distance into the anus to examine the prostate.

“There is a lot of hype and misconception regarding what happens during a prostate examination, most of which is not true,” says Dr Wood. “The actual test lasts around 10-20 seconds and afterwards, most of my patients will say ‘that wasn’t as bad as I expected.”

Myth 3: I’m in good shape for my age, so I don’t have to worry

Myth busted: A healthy diet and regular exercise certainly lower the risk of developing the disease, but these are not the only factors to consider. Research shows that age and genealogy are also potential risk factors.

“Prostate cancer is by far the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in men over the age of 50,” says Dr Wood. Both doctors warn against the belief that prostate cancer is an ‘old man’s disease’, with both having diagnosed men younger than 50.

Dr Govender recalls diagnosing a patient of 36, and advises men to begin screening as early as 40 – especially if any of their fathers or brothers have ever been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Myth 4: I don’t feel or look sick, so everything must be fine

Myth busted: A common belief, especially among men, is that it’s only necessary to see a doctor when something goes wrong – an attitude that could be detrimental in the long run, warns Dr Govender.

“Patients find it difficult to understand that something dangerous could be happening inside them that may not manifest outwardly as a symptom or warning sign,” he says. “It has been well-documented that men are not nearly as diligent as women in attending routine check-ups for this very reason.”

There have been many cases of men being diagnosed with either prostate or testicular cancer at very late stages, when treatment is far less effective. Early detection is key, and waiting for symptoms that may never appear severely impedes the patient’s chances of beating the disease.

Myth 5: Testicular cancer does not affect young men

Myth busted: In fact, while cases of testicular cancer in South Africa are rare, it is still one of the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 39.

“Testicular cancer is very much a disease of younger men and while there is no specific screening routine for men in this age bracket, we encourage patients to do self-examinations every three months to check for any growths or lumps in the testes,” says Dr Wood.

According to Dr Govender, teens and younger men wait far too long to have their symptoms checked, possibly due to embarrassment or shyness around the subject.

“It is very important to educate young men about the possibility of testicular cancer and to encourage them to seek medical advice if they feel a hard, painless, rapidly growing lump in the testes,” says Govender.

Myth 6: Cancer is a death sentence

Myth busted: Patients have a far better chance of beating cancer in the early stages – which means that early detection could literally save your life. Late-stage cancers are of course treatable, but the earlier the disease is caught, the more treatable and manageable it is.

“A delayed diagnosis as a result of not coming in for screening in the early and asymptomatic phases could amount to inferior treatment outcomes, as the disease would be at a more advanced stage,” says Dr Wood. “But, no matter how serious the prognosis may be, it is important to remain hopeful and remember that the disease is treatable and often curable.”

Knowing what to look out for when it comes to prostate and testicular cancer could help save your or a loved one’s life. Don’t ignore the signs, pay regular visits to your doctor for routine check-ups, and be sure to ask your doctor to check any worrying abnormalities.

Help run cancer out of town by joining the Hollard Daredevil Run on 19 February 2016 in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Nelspruit and George. Registered runners over the age of 40 will receive a free PSA Screening Test when they collect their run packs at Hollard’s offices or when they arrive at their chosen venue on run day. All proceeds from the registration fees are donated to the Cancer Association of South Africa and used for further campaigns to raise awareness of this disease. For more information, visit, or ‘like’ the Daredevil Run Facebook page.

Share your support by tweeting using the official hashtag; #DaredevilRun and tag @Daredevil_Run in your tweets.

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