Welcome November! Or should I say Movember? This month is prostate cancer awareness month, so usually clean-shaven men might be sporting a little extra facial hair to bring about awareness to this disease. I just bought a new jar of upper lip hair removal cream, so I won’t be sporting a ‘stache. If I skipped my hair removal cream ritual however, I may very well be looking like a Movember participant in a few months:
Now, let’s talk prostate. What is prostate cancer? Well, first let us take a look at what the prostate is:
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland just below the bladder. It produces part of the fluid that carries sperm. Normally, as men age, the prostate increases in size. If it grows large enough, it may press on the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. This may make the urine flow weaker or slower or make men have to urinate more often, especially at night. In the large majority of cases, an increase in the size of the prostate and a change in urine flow do not mean you have cancer – these are just a normal part of aging. Nonetheless, healthy men who experience symptoms should consult a physician without delay.
Prostate cancer is:
In some cases, a growth in the prostate is cancerous. Prostate cancer is different in different men. Sometimes the cancer stays in the prostate gland and has little or no effect on how a man feels or how long he lives. Some men with prostate cancer have no symptoms – in other words, it is possible to have prostate cancer without the prostate being enlarged, without urinary problems, and without pain. About seven out of every 10 men diagnosed with prostate cancer will not die from this disease – rather they will die with the disease and from other causes such as heart disease, stroke or old age.
Prostate cancer can also be fatal and it is important to talk with your doctor to understand if you are at risk. In order to detect for risk of prostate cancer men must undergo a PSA blood test (prostate specific antigen) to see if levels are high (at risk) or normal. During your routine check-up, your doctor will also give you a prostate rectal exam to test for an enlarged prostate.
Now, this is where things get dicey. Did you know that black males have a higher risk of prostate cancer than caucasian males? This is the reason I relentlessly harassed Andy to get an exam. As much as I harassed him, he was not going to get this exam done. Like many men he argued, “I’m not letting anybody do that to me. Doctor or not.” Unfortunately, this is a common reason why men skip this life-saving exam. Fear and pride of feeling violated or less masculine are often factors. These very same reasons could also lead to their demise. If left to grow, prostate cancer is deadly. If detected early chances of survival are high.
If you are a black male between the ages of 45-60 +, please read this. I have asked Andy how he came to terms with finally deciding to have the rectal exam, and how he overcame his fear.
Me: Hi Andy. Thanks for answering my questions. First, why did you decide to have this exam?
Andy: Well, as you know, prostate cancer is in my family history. Both my older brothers have battled and survived, so I knew I had to get it done.
Me: How did you set aside the feeling of doubt and undergo the exam? What advice would you have for men that may have the same fear that you did?
Andy: I realized that common sense prevails. The first piece of advice is that you should have a good relationship with your doctor. I asked him many questions about the exam. I felt comfortable enough to discuss my concerns, and he is a doctor with a very good bedside manner and was able to put my mind at ease. We talked about the exam during many visits before he actually performed the exam. Make sure you can ask your doctor anything. You have to be an advocate for your health. If your doctor is a good doctor, he/she will also be an advocate for your health.
Me: Will out divulging too much information, how was the actual exam?
Andy: Not bad. It was very quick with a little discomfort of course. My doctor talked me through the whole process which was something that I found really helped me. My discomfort was more my mental barriers than physical.
Me: Finally, what advice would you have from a man who may be at risk, but who refuses to have this exam because he does not want his doctor to touch this area of his body.
Andy: Man, I understand your concerns, but it can save your life. You don’t want this disease, to be on your death bed and find out it could have been cured, but for a 2 minute exam. We, as black men, must get over this foolish notion that you are less of a man for having this exam. You are more of a man for getting this done. Your loved ones wouldn’t want you to go this way. Think of your children or grandchildren, your significant other. You are taking your health care in your own hands and that is what a man does.
Eat well, exercise and especially If you are a black male, book your rectal exam and PSA blood test now. If you are 45 plus and prostate cancer runs in your family, swallow your pride. It could very well be life saving.