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Man Up to Prostate Cancer

A couple years ago, I was asked to be a keynote speaker at a national conference of oncology nurses. Prior to arrival I learned there were to be close to 750 folks in attendance, so just for fun I started my presentation with a simple question: “How many of you know when breast cancer awareness month is?”

Not surprisingly, almost 100% of the hands went up in the room. I then asked, “How many of you know when prostate cancer awareness month is?” Just 5 hands were raised. When asked, all agreed it was November when the men grow beards. The rest of the audience stayed silent, especially after I noted that prostate cancer awareness month is September.

Knowing prostate cancer warning signs

When it comes to breast cancer awareness, and of course depending on what source you consult, the general sense is that many women know the warning signs for breast cancer. In sharp contrast, it is also suggested that not as many men are aware of the initial warning signs for prostate cancer. Unlike breast cancer, a self-check prostate examination is not very practical.

I confirmed with the audience that lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women.  They also agreed that breast cancer was often listed as the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for women. I then asked where prostate cancer ranked on the scale. Again, the vast majority had no idea prostate cancer was typically listed as the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for men.1

Too little awareness

Over the past decade, millions of dollars had been spent by multiple prostate cancer organizations to educate men about the dangers of prostate cancer. Yet despite all the advertising in newspapers, television, and radio, the level of awareness remains low.

As a prostate cancer survivor who was diagnosed early, my cancer was considered contained in the gland at the time of surgery. While my cancer returned several years later, a combination of radiation and Lupron (androgen deprivation therapy) has been successful.

The lack of information combined with the lack of awareness on the part of men, and many times the very doctors they are working with, is shocking, considering that prostate cancer is not always the good cancer so many believe it to be.

How women can help raise awareness

I have spent the last 7 years as a speaker reaching out to men's groups, and more importantly to women's groups, on the need for men to take an active role in their personal health. Over the years, I have seen the impact women can have on men when it comes to adjusting their view on the need for routine medical visits. Personally, I believe women just may be the key to spreading the word about prostate cancer.

One of the greatest challenges we face are that men in the African American community are often the ones most heavily-impacted by prostate cancer. It can go undetected for years and not treated until an advanced stage. We need to find ways to make all men aware of prostate cancer and the particular dangers it presents to African American and Latino men.

Getting proactive

It is often difficult if not impossible to reach men who have no interest in their physical well-being. It is a challenge we must somehow overcome. September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. If you can just do one thing, mention to one man in your life the importance of taking a proactive role when it comes to his personal health.

When is all said and done, prostate cancer is a treatable disease, especially when caught early. There is no better time than right now to speak up and Man Up to Prostate Cancer.

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