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Men have a reputation for reluctance when it comes to seeking medical attention, possibly due to an outdated expectation that they should be tough and therefore suffer in silence.

This is especially true when it comes to their reproductive health. This is a problem when you consider that South African men have a one in eight chance of getting cancer in their lifetime, with one of 14 men being at risk of getting prostate cancer. One in every four South Africans is affected by cancer, either directly or through a family member or friend being diagnosed.

The most common male cancers include prostate, Kaposi sarcoma (skin cancer), lung, colorectal, testicular, penile and anal cancer. According to Lancet Medical Journal, South Africa could see a 78% increase in cancer cases by 2030, with a 75% increase expected globally. Even if you don’t have a family history of cancer, environmental exposure can put you at risk.

Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer at Sanlam, says that one of the biggest ‘myths’ around cancer is the belief that a cancer-free family history means ‘it cannot happen to me’. There are a number of harmful myths around cancer that prevent a true understanding of the disease, so it is important to be equipped with the correct information.

Myths that men generally believe about cancer:

  1. I’m young so I’m not at risk. While prostate cancer is more common in men aged 50 and up, testicular cancer is prevalent in young men between the ages of 15 and 39. The incidence rate for this kind of cancer is relatively low (1 in 1 050), but it’s recommended all men aged 15 and older perform a monthly testicular self-examination. There’s a 95% recovery rate for incidents that are detected and treated early.
  2. Only certain races are affected by prostate cancer. Approximately 4 300 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually across all race groups. All men need to get tested regularly, regardless of their race.
  3. I can’t get breast cancer. Men can get breast cancer, but it is very unlikely. Male breast cancer only accounts for 1% of all breast cancer incidents, and tends to be diagnosed in older men. According to CANSA, family history and exposure to oestrogen can increase an individual’s risk.
  4. Treatment for reproductive cancers will cause impotence. This is obviously a sensitive topic for men. The radiation, surgery and hormone therapies used to treat prostate and bladder cancer can potentially cause erectile dysfunction (ED), but this doesn’t happen to everyone and it’s often only temporary. There are multiple therapies and aids that can also be used to improve ED, so it doesn’t impact on a man’s life.
  5. All prostate cancer tests are invasive. Another reason men frequently cite for not getting routine check-ups is fear of invasive procedures. Prostate cancer is generally asymptomatic, so it’s vital to be checked regularly when over a certain age.
  • The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) is a protein produced by prostate tissue that can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). A non-invasive finger prick or blood test can show if PSA levels are raised, indicating the need for further tests.
  • Regular PSA tests are recommended for men aged 40 and up, especially those with a first-degree relative (father, brother, son) who had prostate cancer at an early age.
  • High-risk individuals should get PSA tests annually, and all men aged 50 and up should get tested bi-annually.
  • After age 50, it’s advisable to get digital rectal exams annually, especially if you’re at high risk. Although invasive, this routine exam causes minimal discomfort.
  1. There’s no lung cancer in my family, so I’m not at risk even if I am a smoker. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths in South Africa for both sexes in 2015, with 8 515 deaths. Men smoke more than women, so their risk is higher. Regardless of family history, people who smoke are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer. It’s also worth noting that the prognosis for lung cancer is good if the cancer is detected early and the patient stops smoking – quitting makes treatment more effective and increases the success rate of surgery, while improving lung function. 
  1. If I get cancer, my expenses will be covered by medical aid. To a certain extent this is true, but cancer is almost always more expensive than anticipated. The hidden costs of the illness are extensive – from a new wardrobe, to alternative therapies, counselling and full-time care. It’s worth investigating dread disease cover, gap cover and income protection.

Source: Sanlam. Images: Pixabay

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