“What happened to me reminds me of how a sequence of low probability events can generate a fatal air crash.” These are the words of a man late to a serious prostate cancer diagnosis.
Former Qantas chief economist turned business lecturer Tony Webber this week shared his frightening prostate cancer story with the Financial Review - which began in 2011 with a routine check-up and escalated in November 2018, when he began having trouble passing urine.
A few months later, the 51-year-old had a digital rectal examination, scans and PSA blood tests (prostate specific antigen), none of which showed any major cause for concern.
“The results showed my prostate was a bit enlarged, which was normal for a man of 51. My PSA was low and although my kidney function was a little outside the normal range, the GP said it was nothing to worry about. I should go home and the problem would sort itself out,” said Webber.
A few months later, the problem escalated during a trip to Turkey, when he had the urge to urinate every half hour with minimal relief, but Webber delayed further checkups until, a few months later, the symptoms intensified to the point where he was excreting strange fluids from his backside.
Following a further battery of tests and ultrasounds, he was referred to a urologist who ordered a prostate biopsy, CT and MRI scans, all of which led to a full blown cancer diagnosis that had spread to his lymph system. With stage 1V prostate cancer confirmed, the projected survival rate was 30% beyond five years.
Tony Webber tells his story to the Financial Review.
Tony has since had anti-hormone treatment and chemotherapy, which cleared up the cancer but left him with some side effects including mental health challenges. He now warns other blokes not to ignore the warning signs.
Webber falls into the 70 per cent of Australians who reportedly don’t know the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) this week called for greater public investment in targeted community awareness activities.
“With a growing Australian population and increasing life expectancy, the number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer will continue to increase,” said PCFA CEO, Professor Jeff Dunn.
“It’s vitally important that we do more to improve awareness of the disease and raise understanding of options for early detection and treatment, while supporting survivors with the long-term side effects of their illness.”
PCFA is a member of the Prostate Cancer Patient Coalition – Asia Pacific (PCPC), which has found that 9 in 10 men do not know the symptoms of prostate cancer before they are diagnosed.
“Of particular concern, only 13 per cent of the Australian men surveyed said they knew how to distinguish between the different stages of prostate cancer, a lack of understanding that can be detrimental to early diagnosis and effective care,” says the report.
While 53 per cent of Australian men surveyed indicated their doctor provided in-depth information on the stages of prostate cancer at diagnosis, many reported feeling overwhelmed at the time and unable to recall the information provided.
PCPC Co-Chair and Clinical Urologist at the Japan Community Health Care Organisation and Tokyo Shinjuku Medical Center, Dr Koichiro Akakura, said the incidence of prostate cancer in the Asia Pacific would almost double in the next 10 years.
“These findings clearly demonstrate that we have a long way to go if we want to raise awareness of prostate cancer to the same level we see in breast cancer, where increased awareness has had a significantly positive impact on diagnosis rates and overall survival.”
Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia has called for a review of PSA Test Guidelines and increased public funding for targeted prostate cancer awareness campaign.
“By 2040 we predict there will be 372,000 men living with or beyond prostate cancer in Australia, representing a 76 per cent increase from 211,000 today and the greatest number of men or women diagnosed with any single cancer,” said Professor Dunn.
“Without investment in new campaigns to reach men at risk, many thousands of men face the risk of late diagnosis with advanced disease, with unacceptably poor prospects for survival.”
Australia has one of the highest rates of prostate cancer in the world, with one in every six Australian men likely to be diagnosed by age 85.
Professor Dunn said PCFA had written to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to seek public funding support for a review of Australia's current PSA Test Guidelines and public awareness activity.
“For Aussie blokes with a family history of prostate cancer, knowing your risks and screening options is key.
“The current guidelines were published in 2016 and remain highly controversial and poorly understood by the majority of Australians.”
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