Male-specific cancers and the workplace

Our readers need no introduction to issues of occupational health, but what about a very real health concern that is affecting countless men around the country?

Men – in fact, ladies too – did you know that worldwide South Africa has one of the highest rates of metastatic prostate cancer (MPC) – meaning it has advanced to other parts of the body and is incurable?

No? Neither did I… However, given that information, it’s probably fair to assume that this is a risk faced by many men in just about any economic sector you wish to name – whether you’re a safety auditor, occupational health practitioner, shop steward, or the editor of a magazine… I was, therefore, inspired to write about this after attending the launch of the 2019 Hollard Daredevil Run, which will take place on March 15.

According to Andrew Oberholzer, CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), if prostate cancer is detected early, 98 percent of men will still be alive after five years. In the case of MPC, the survival rate after five years is just 30 percent. That’s a frightening statistic.

Oberholzer rightfully points out that in the First World scenario, when employees are required to go for their annual corporate wellness checks, a prostate-specific antigen (or PSA) test will be conducted. This is the only way to detect prostate cancer – but the majority of South African men will only have the chance to be tested when they display symptoms; and by that point the cancer will have already spread.

“The treatment for prostate cancer has a massive impact on a man’s life… If it’s advanced MPC, the only way to stop the cancer is to remove the testosterone from the body. Testosterone is the male hormone; it gives men their drive, energy and muscle mass. The negative effects of this treatment are immense,” Oberholzer explains.

Happily, teaching any man to detect signs of testicular cancer is far easier. Lucy Balona, head: marketing and communication at the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), explains that while prostate cancer generally affects older men, testicular cancer tends to affect younger men. “It’s affecting a lot of guys in their 30s,” she says.

In both cases, early detection is vital especially, Oberholzer notes, if you’re a black male…

“The majority of the South African population is black and, while black males are unlikely to get testicular cancer, their risk of prostate cancer is about 70-percent more than that for white men.

“We don’t know why, it’s probably genetic, but it’s essential that black men start screening for prostate cancer by the age of 40 (especially if there is a history of cancer in the family). All other men should start screening from the age of 45,” he says.

David Lucas, a cancer survivor and the original instigator of the Daredevil Run, issues a reality check: “Cancer doesn’t know age or race, it doesn’t care who you are.

“In the old days, cowboys didn’t cry. In the old days, saying “cancer” was like swearing. You didn’t talk about it, and today this is still very much true. People still believe it’s because of something they’ve done wrong in their life, but once you are told you have cancer, your life is turned around,” he relates.

Oberholzer comments that getting conservative South African men to feel comfortable with these issues has never been easy. “We don’t talk about our issues. It’s the ‘I’m fine syndrome’. Men have had to be taught that if they have a problem, they must feel comfortable enough to talk to their doctor about it.”

To try get the message out to as many men as possible, Hollard and CANSA created the Hollard Man Van to reach men in the rural areas. The Man Van provides community testing (even of blood pressure and blood sugar), and information to men on how to be healthy. In its first year, the Man Van tested 4 000 men, and the most recent figure is 18 000 – a portion of whom have been referred for further consultation.

Last year, Hollard donated more than R500 000 to CANSA and the PCF thanks to the Daredevil Run. It’s also launched the Guynae campaign to remind men throughout the year that early detection saves lives.

Most importantly, the sight of thousands of men of all ages and races running through the streets of Johannesburg in purple speedos has opened the conversation around male-specific cancers and helped to take away some of the shame and stigma around them.

As Nikki Belford, Hollard sponsorship manager, points out, testing saves the lives of men who are not only breadwinners, but fathers, brothers, sons and husbands.

No man should be left out. Let’s do our bit to beat another disease that threatens the lives of the men that help make the South African economy tick.

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