Sept. 17, 2019, 3:34 p.m.
The odds stacked against Kiwi men are increasing as the gap in testing, funding and treatment between men and women’s healthcare continues to widen, causing widespread concern amongst prostate cancer experts.
The most recent available Ministry of Health data has revealed a distressing 24% increase in prostate cancer diagnoses between 2015-2017, one of only two increases during that period across the top five cancers in New Zealand (breast, colorectal, lung, prostate and melanoma) and the only increase in double figures.
One in eight Kiwi men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime, with 10 men diagnosed everyday and one or more dying every day. Risk also increases up to 11 times if two or more first-degree relatives were diagnosed with prostate cancer under the age of 65 years.
Prostate Cancer Foundation CEO Graeme Woodside said that while diagnosis and death figures remain on par with breast cancer, the glaring inequality men are facing is playing a deplorable role in the lives of thousands of men, their families and communities.
“Three key areas are to blame for the current state of prostate cancer in New Zealand - firstly the DHBs have got a long way to go to expedite treatment as many men are relocating or travelling for treatment, forced to wait months for surgery or simply dying on the waiting list,” said Mr Woodside.
“The abandonment of cancer treatment targets by the Labour Government has left DHBs without any measurement of appropriate timelines, causing unnecessary stress and uncertainty.”
“Certain testing and treatment options can be expensive or simply inaccessible for men yet free for women and finally, despite recent research showing that more than half of all Kiwi men over 50 are being PSA tested, many men continue to be turned down or turned away when they request a test from their GP.”
A survey amongst more than 500 New Zealand prostate cancer survivors has uncovered insights that sadly reinforce the reality faced by the estimated 41,000 men living with a prostate cancer diagnosis in this country:
• Public vs Private: men in the public health system had to wait up to three times longer than those using private health services for their first specialist appointment, and up to twice as long for treatment.
• Confusion at diagnosis: 44% felt confused following diagnosis, faced with too many decisions, not enough information and resorting to the internet for guidance.
• Genetic link: more than a third (35%) had another man in their family who has, or has had, prostate cancer.
• Support is essential: 90% feel it’s helpful to speak to other men who have had treatment to make informed decisions. Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand frequently links up newly-diagnosed men with survivors.
The PSA blood test, while not failsafe, is the best quick and easy test for prostate cancer and there are clear guidelines how it should be used. In conjunction with a DRE (digital rectal examination), GPs are the first line of defence when it comes to having a proactive approach to health. The Prostate Cancer Foundation recommends annual check-ups from the age of 40 if there is a family history of prostate cancer; or over 50, but younger than 70.