Greater awareness of men's health issues in SA will save lives

Early detection of diseases keeps men healthier

Wednesday, July 1 2015

South African women tend to take better care of their health than their male counterparts, and are living an average of six years longer.

This is according to a study completed by Professor Shingai Mutambirwa, who is a founding member of the South African Men’s Health Society. Prof Mutambirwa, points out that there are a number of reasons for women’s greater longevity, but suggests that one of the most important ones is that men tend to pay less attention to their health than women and are more inclined to ignore the warning signs of disease.

“Many men engage in more risky behaviour than women and are also less inclined to seek medical advice when they have concerns. In fact, women are five times more likely to visit their healthcare practitioner than men,” adds Prof Mutambirwa, who heads up the Urology department at the Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital and the University of Limpopo - Medunsa Campus, and is a member of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Jacques du Plessis, managing director of the Netcare hospital division, says that these findings are worrying, particularly as many of the illnesses that are impacting males, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers, are either preventable or at least medically manageable.

Observes Du Plessis: “Greater awareness of men’s health issues would allow us to keep our men more healthy.Heart disease, for instance, is a major killer around the world, and is so often preventable through the adoption of a healthier lifestyle which includes a balanced diet and exercise.”

“Cancers of the prostate can be most dangerous if left untreated, but they can be successfully managed and often even cured if tackled early. Indeed, if prostate cancer is detected while it is localised or still confined to the prostate gland itself, the five-year survival rate is almost 100%,” observes Du Plessis.

Prof Mutambirwa says despite the challenges facing South Africa, such as the HIV/Aids epidemic, both men and women in South Africa are on average living longer than they were just five years ago. The average life expectancy in 2009 was 54 years whereas today it is approximately 61. He says that this is due to a highly effective nationwide HIV/Aids treatment campaign, an improvement in the health system and in the awareness of health issues. He notes, however, that the discrepancy in longevity rates between men and women remains of great concern.

Du Plessis points out that women are usually taught from an early age that they should self-examine their breasts and visit the doctor for regular cancer screenings. But few men are aware of the risks of prostate or testicular cancers, or that they can and should have themselves regularly screened for these diseases.

“Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer experienced by men, after lung cancer, in South Africa and one in 23 South African men will develop the disease at some stage in their lives. Although advancing age is an important risk factor for prostate cancer, it does not discriminate and men of all ages and races may develop the disease,” notes du Plessis.

In his view, prostate cancer is one of the most important health issues facing South African men and their families. “If more males can be encouraged to go to for regular screenings for prostate cancer it will allow them to remain in a better state of health and potentially enable them to survive the disease,” he adds.

The prostate is a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system, producing fluid that is part of male semen. Prostate cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in the prostate gland. If left untreated, aggressive forms of this cancer may metastasise, or spread to other organs in the body, and become life threatening.

Dr Marius Conradie, a urologist who practises at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital in Johannesburg, says that the treatment of prostate cancer has advanced tremendously in recent years and there are a number of therapies available to treat it today. Treatment may vary depending upon the type of cancer involved and whether or not the disease is localised to the prostate or has metastasised.

Dr Conradie points out that for those cases where the cancer is still localised to the prostate itself, radical prostatectomy, which involves the prostate gland being surgically removed, has the highest success rate of all the treatment options. Most prostatectomies in countries such as the United States are being performed using robotic surgery technology, and this is now also increasingly being adopted in South Africa.

Netcare have introduced da Vinci Si robotic technology at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital in Midrand and Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town in mid-2014. Some 200 of these intricate operations have since been performed using this highly advanced system, indicating just how rapidly this form of surgery is being taken up in this country.

Prostate cancer can be detected using screening tests such as a digital rectal exam (DRE), a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and a biopsy. During DRE, the doctor uses a gloved finger to feel for hard lumpy areas on the prostate gland. PSA is a simple blood test for signs of prostate cancer. Dr Conradie advises all adult men over the age of 45 to have themselves screened for the disease annually. While men with a family history of prostate cancer should be screened annually from the age of 40.

Du Plessis calls on South African men to start taking greater responsibility for their own health. “They can start by asking their healthcare practitioner to monitor their health through blood pressure, blood-sugar, cholesterol and prostate cancer screenings. They can also check themselves for testicular cancer by feeling their testicles for any lumps or changes. Let us all work together to keep South African men and women healthy,” he concludes.

What everyone should know about prostate cancer

  • One in 23 South African men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lives.
  • According to National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) and National Cancer Registry and Research, prostate cancer is likely to be the most common cancer men in SA. More than 4,300 men are newly diagnosed and 2,000 men die from the disease each year.
  • More than 900,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year worldwide.
  • The prostate is a gland that forms part of the male reproductive system. It secretes liquid to energise the sperm to fertilise the egg. Prostate cancer occurs when cells in this gland begin to multiply uncontrollably.
  • Prostate cancer is often a slow-growing cancer, but it is possible for these cells to spread, or metastasise, outside the gland and into the lymph system and bones.
  • This cancer usually, but not only, develops in men over the age of 50, and most commonly in men in their sixties, seventies and beyond.
  • Many men who develop prostate cancer will have no visible signs or symptoms, which is why regular screening is so important.
  • Men over the age of 45 should have regular check-ups, at least once a year, while men with a family history of prostate cancer should be screened annually from the age of 40.
  • The screening process should ideally include a rectal examination and a PSA blood test, both of which can help to indicate whether cancer is present.
  • While it is possible to have prostate cancer without visible symptoms, many men will experience symptoms such as blood in urine, frequent urination, difficulty starting urination and maintaining a steady flow, painful urination, more frequent desire to urinate at night, difficulty achieving an erection, painful ejaculation, unexplained weight loss, and/or regular lower back pain or stiffness.
  • There are three primary treatments: the surgical removal of the prostate (radical prostatectomy), brachytherapy and external beam radiation. In the case of older men, whose cancer is often slower to develop, doctors may recommend watchful waiting i.e. doing nothing but having regular tests to ensure the cancer has remained slow growing.
  • Radical prostatectomy may be performed though traditional surgical means (i.e. scalpel incision) or laparoscopically. The da Vinci surgical robotic systems introduced by Netcare in Johannesburg and Cape Town offers an additional highly effective treatment option to patients with cancer that is confined to the prostate.
  • Some 80% of all radical prostatectomies are now performed with the assistance of robotic technology in the United States.
  • The da Vinci Si surgical technology delivers consistently good outcomes for patients compared to the more traditional forms of surgery for prostate cancer and also results in fewer complications.
  • The da Vinci surgical system enables the practiced surgeon to operate within finer margins, which means there is less chance of leaving any cancerous tissue behind, providing good cancer control.


Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Wilson or Meggan Saville
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]