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Celebrities Talking about Prostate Cancer – Is It Always a Good Thing?

Recently, a number of celebrities including Rod Stewart and Elton John have talked about their prostate cancer experiences. Over in the UK, we’ve also had comedian Stephen Fry, who announced his diagnosis and surgical treatment in a YouTube video and BBC journalist Bill Turnbull who has been very open about living with advanced prostate cancer.

Shine a light on prostate cancer

The standard response to these announcements and stories is that these well-known men shine a light on a disease and this brings an awareness that no amount of charity spending could create. With that awareness we see many more men coming forward to have their symptoms investigated thus saving the lives of those men who go forward to treatment. The rise in awareness caused by Turnbull and Fry even has its own name — the ‘Fry and Turnbull effect’ as an additional 4,000 men in Q2 2018 received treatment in part caused by the publicity.1

A rapidly-growing flood of patients

The first problem that can arise is a rapidly-growing torrent of patients. The National Health Service in the UK is already struggling with the effects of an aging population, a lack of trained staff and budget constraints.

A really quick rise in the number of referrals and investigations in an already busy urology department places a huge strain on the staff, who were probably already struggling with their workload as it was. Up that workload by 36 percent (see above) and some will surely start to experience the personal signs of stress, the worry that they are letting people down and possible burnout, now a recognized condition according to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.2

Overlooking us “ordinary” folks

There’s another broader issue that I see though. With a loose collective of men and a few women, I’ve been working away at awareness and related issues for the last nine years. From time to time we’ve struck lucky with a journalist or TV producer who has been keen to highlight our work and our disease.

In an increasingly celebrity-driven world, however, I’m finding that we are of less interest now. Those media people who liked our ordinariness are now being pressured to go for the ratings by putting forward not the guy in the street but the face from the big screen or the stage.

Let’s talk about representation and accessibility

I worry that Fry and Turnbull, Stewart and John (all of whom have shows, books, and records to sell) have perhaps unwittingly hijacked our disease which shows no class distinctions. We must acknowledge that this disease is actually more common in Afro-Carribean men (and all four of these men are very white).

For celebrities, this is a disease where they are able to easily access the best surgeons, physicians, and therapies. They don’t have to wait in line for scarce resources and lovely but overworked staff. They don’t go home to a worried family who may have lost their sole income provider and who already earn less in a year than what these celebrities can make for a single appearance on a prime-time show. I’m sorry guys, but I’d like my disease back.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The ProstateCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. 'Fry and Turnbull effect' on prostate cancer. BBC News. Accessed in December 2019. From https://www.bbc.com/news/health-45795337
  2. Burnout recognised as a medical condition for the first time. Accessed in December 2019. From https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/burnout-recognised-as-a-medical-condition-for-the

Comments

  • Dennis Golden moderator
    1 week ago

    Hi Simon …What always amazes me is the amount of celeb support and overall awareness we see when it comes to the more well publicized cancers like lung and breast cancer. In sharp contrast there is far less visibility or media support when it comes to prostate cancer. For years I have wished that more celebs would speak up and be willing to take a leadership role with prostate cancer awareness at every level

    As part of our foundation outreach efforts, we have contacted many sports figures, entertainers, media types and even political figures. While we can often get an initial positive response, we find that interest soon fades. It appears that men do not want to talk about it or admit that prostate cancer is a personal issue. We suspect it goes back to men not wanting to appear to be vulnerable or be seen as less than male. Unfortunately the lack of conversation and concern by men when it comes to this disease often suggests to outsiders that is a low priority for funding or research.

    I agree with Richard Faust and have heard many times that prostate cancer is “the good cancer” men live with and die from something else. The overall impression from this false flag is that men and their partners along with many doctors often believe that prostate cancer is not something to worry about. A 70 year old man recently contacted me and said he had never had a PSA test and his GP told him not to worry about PSA testing and that the cost might not be covered by his insurance and was not worth it.

    I do a lot of speaking on the topic of men’s health and it often comes as a shock when I mention that PCa is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men behind lung cancer. Whatever we can do to encourage folks like Rod and Elton to speak up about this disease will help all of us live longer and healthier lives

    While no one can begrudge the amount of publicity and subsequent funding that flows into the more “well known cancers” I suspect we would all do a lot better if men decided to speak up more and be more involved when it comes to all diseases of the prostate. … Dennis (ProstateCancer.net Team)

  • Richard Faust moderator
    1 week ago

    Hi Simon. You raise some really interesting points. While I think more men being motivated/educated on the need to get tested is a good thing (an overload really points to a need for more capacity in the system), there absolutely can be unintended consequences. Prostate cancer already has the misinformed reputation as “the good cancer.” Most celebrities get excellent care and have conditions caught early (with the notable exception of Turnbull). The public never seeing them struggle and quickly recover can add to the false impression that prostate cancer is not much to worry about. I’d like to see celebrities talk about (note: not saying some don’t) consequences and just how deadly PCa can be. Best, Richard (ProstateCancer.net Team)

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