Prostrate Cancer: A silent Death

Prostate cancer often goes for years undetected and untreated (Photo courtesy of www.medscape.com)
Prostate cancer often goes for years undetected and untreated (Photo courtesy of http://www.medscape.com)

By Jeanne Ongiyo

According to the American Cancer Society, prostrate cancer is the most common cancer among men after skin cancer but it can often be treated successfully if detected at an earlier stage. Cancer is the third highest cause of morbidity after cardio-vascular and infectious diseases contributing to 7% of deaths in Kenya annually. 60% of Kenyan men affected by prostrate cancer are below the age of 70 years with every 17 out of a population of 100,000 men being at risk of contracting prostate cancer.

Prostrate cancer is caused by the abnormal multiplication of cells in the prostrate glands. These mutations cause the cells to grow and divide more rapidly than the normal body cells. They compete for nutrients with the normal body cells hence affecting their proper functioning.

The accumulating abnormal cells form tumors that can grow to invade the nearby body tissues if not regulated early enough with some of these cells breaking off and spreading to other parts of the body.

Some common symptoms of prostrate cancer are trouble urinating, decreased force in the normal stream of urine, blood in semen, discomfort in the pelvic area and in adverse cases erectile dysfunction. These are the warning signs that should warrant a doctor’s appointment with immediate effect.

Risk factors associated with prostrate cancer include family history of prostrate or breast cancer, old age and obesity. Prostrate cancer is associated with old age because in the elderly, the cells are no longer actively dividing hence the old cells sometimes accumulate and become hazardous to one’s health over time. In relation to actively dividing cells, obesity also contributes to prostrate cancer because obese people are generally inactive hence the cells are dormant. Family history has also been a cause of some hereditary diseases like prostrate cancer as is the case with other diseases like asthma and diabetes. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 viruses which may lead to cervical cancer in women and prostrate cancer in men. They are transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact with an infected person hence having sexual intercourse with a person with this virus may lead to prostrate cancer if one is not immediately vaccinated.

Like any other form of cancer, prostrate cancer is usually detected in the later stages when it has already caused adverse effects on the health of the affected individual. More often than not, the effects are usually irreversible but the cancer may be contained by using medication which is relatively expensive. Late detection in Kenya is closely linked to inadequate diagnostic facilities in public hospitals making the services unavailable to the middle class and the otherwise low income earners as well as a general lack of awareness of the cancer in general. There are only 4 radiation centers in the in the country which are all in Nairobi (Kenyatta National Hospital, MP Shah, Nairobi Hospital and Aga Khan) which also makes accessing these services tedious and time consuming especially to those traveling from different counties.

Whether to test healthy men with no symptoms for prostate cancer is controversial. Medical organizations don’t agree on the issue of screening and whether it has benefits. Some medical organizations recommend men consider prostate cancer screening in their 50s, or sooner for men who have risk factors for prostate cancer. Other organizations advise against screening because of the potential harm caused by exposing the body to radioactive rays when screening.

Aside from inadequate facilities, the institutions with these facilities are also understaffed with a limited number of qualified professionals attending to a growing number of patients with prostrate cancer and other forms of cancer.

Annually, the number of new cancer cases reported is estimated at 3000 with only 4 radiation oncologists, 6 medical oncologists, 5 radiation therapy technologists, 3 oncology nurses and 2 medical physicists. This means cancer patients are not given the proper treatment and attention they need to help them recover or otherwise suppress the multiplication of the causative cancer cells.

Prostate cancer treatment options depend on several factors, such as how fast the cancer is growing, how much it has spread and your overall health, as well as the benefits and the potential side effects of the treatment. For men diagnosed with very early-stage prostate cancer, treatment may not be necessary right away. Some men may never need treatment and instead doctors sometimes recommend active surveillance where regular follow-up blood tests, rectal exams and possibly biopsies may be performed to monitor progression of the tumors. If tests show your cancer is progressing, you may opt for a prostate cancer treatment such as surgery or radiation.

As we pay keen interest on breast cancer in women, it is important for men to be aware that they are prone to prostrate cancer and that they also need regular check-ups especially in old age to avoid contraction and nursing of this cancer to adverse stages. The government should also take it upon themselves to make sure that they supply the necessary radiation facilities throughout the country for easy of accessibility and other professionals should be trained to curb the menace of under staffing in these institutions. All in all, it is better to be safe than sorry.

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