By Gwendolyn Harris
In my circle of friends, it’s not uncommon to get a text from one of my girls asking about a recommendation for a good OB/GYN or a therapist. We can mix these bigger health talks into our every day conversation like it’s nothing. For men, on the other hand, these conversations are a little bit harder to have and that’s if they even happen at all – especially when it comes to prostate cancer. Results from a recent Harris Poll survey of 410 men with advanced prostate cancer and 95 caregivers found that nearly 7 in 10 (68 percent) of men surveyed admitted to sometimes ignoring symptoms like pain. The survey, conducted by eight patient advocacy groups comprising the International Prostate Cancer Coalition (IPCC), also showed that 71 percent of men don’t know what causes the pain and more than half say they feel pain is just something they have to live with. The survey shows the important role of caregivers when it comes to helping men speak up about their prostate health. It can be life-saving. “It was actually the encouragement of my wife and the foot kicking by my wife to get a physical that led to my detection of prostate cancer,” remembers Thomas Farrington about what led to his health-saving early diagnosis.
Now a 15- year prostate cancer survivor, Farrington has made it his mission to save the lives of other Black men. In 2003, Farrington founded The Prostate Health Education Network (PHEN) to increase awareness and knowledge about prostate cancer within Black America, which according to PHEN’s website, suffers an alarming 140 percent higher death rate than for all other men. Black men have a 2½ times higher death rate from prostate cancer and as Farrington explains, “the whole issue about managing advanced prostate cancer is critical for men and this is what men die from when the disease is advanced to the bones and other parts of the body.”
What does advanced prostate cancer look like?
While early stage prostate cancer can cause no symptoms, symptoms may emerge as the disease progresses. The most common advanced prostate cancer symptoms experienced by survey respondents with bone metastases (cancer that has spread to their bones) include fatigue (85 percent), pain or aches in specific areas (71 percent), general allover-body pain or aches (55 percent), numbness or weakness (55 percent), difficulty sleeping as a result of pain (42 percent), anxiety or distress as a result of pain (40 percent) and difficulty doing normal activities (40 percent).1 Men living with advanced prostate cancer experience symptoms like difficulty walking or climbing stairs, difficulty sleeping and loss of bladder control. On the surface, these symptoms are easy for men to ignore and not see as a sign their prostate cancer is progressing. “A man who is typically used to going upstairs to, say his bedroom on the second floor, and now all of a sudden he is just finding that he is incredibly winded or his balance is off and he says ‘I am just gonna start sleeping on the couch or the guest bedroom or the reclining chair and I guess I am just getting old,’ that’s not a good thing,” says Dr. Neal Shore, a prostate expert and South Carolina-based oncologist.
These symptoms, says Shore, can potentially tell the nurse and the doctor that the man is having this progressive disease manifest itself and he may need additional tests to see if his cancer is, indeed, progressing. Any information observed by loved ones and caregivers should be shared with doctors.
Managing prostate cancer
Early detection can’t be stressed enough when it comes to Black men and prostate cancer. For men that have already been diagnosed, keeping the disease from progressing to advanced stages is the focus. Beyond eating a balanced diet and staying fit, Farrington stresses the importance of men (and their loved ones) knowing and paying attention to the symptoms of advanced cancer, like bone pain and fatigue. “You have to have your PSA test continuously and be on alert and speak up. What happened with this survey [is] it kind of shows that men with prostate cancer are like men without it. We just don’t want to listen to our body sometimes. We may have something that’s happening and we say, ‘Hey, that may go away,’ and it may come again and you say that it will go away. If you are a prostate cancer patient then it’s important to know that you have to be highly sensitive to certain symptoms. For tools to help you or a loved one talk with your doctor about managing your prostate cancer, visit www. MenWhoSpeakUp.com.