Even though Prostate Cancer Awareness Day has passed, this will not stop the Jamaica Cancer society’s continued efforts to raise public awareness about the disease and the importance of screening, as prostate cancer tops the list as the most prevalent form of cancer affecting Jamaican men.
“The major role of the Jamaica Cancer Society is to increase public awareness about cancer, the second is to bring screening to the population that is eligible as screening remains our best vaccine against cancer,” said Executive Director of the Jamaica Cancer Society, Yulit Gordon.
She said that screening for cancers that are preventable such as prostate, breast, colon and cervical is important as it opens the door for early detection to take place.
“What we are seeking to do is to educate the men about prostate cancer. We know that we have not yet zeroed in on what exactly causes cancer but what we can do is screen for it so that we can detect tumours long before they become cancerous so they can be effectively treated,” Gordon said.
She said that Prostate Cancer Awareness Day, which was acknowledged last Friday, was not only about educating men, but empowering, encouraging and teaching them how to minimise the risk of getting a prostate cancer diagnosis by getting screened.
Gordon explained that the gold standard for screening remains in doing the prostate specific antigen test (PSA) and the urologist conducted digital rectal examination (DRE) as it is the way to go.
“Let’s face it, cultural barriers and psychological barriers remain a big deterrent. When I came in (Friday) and was talking with some of the men, they shared with me, ‘miss we are really afraid of doing the digital rectal test, we don’t mind doing the PSA but we are afraid of doing the digital rectal test and you have to understand we are men and we are afraid,’” Gordon recalled.
She said that she respected their honesty and encouraged them to speak with someone who knew what it was like, having already gone through the procedure. She cited using these same testimonials of prostate cancer survivals as strategies to get men to realise the importance of doing both tests.
The Cancer Society’s partners include Biolab, which conducted the PSA screening, and urologists from the Jamaica Urological Society who had private, individual sessions with the men who were present and also conducted the DRE.
The executive director said that once the results are in, the society will follow up with anyone who has tested positive for the cancer and ensure they enrol in an effective treatment programme and get the support that they need.
“In 2013, Jamaica lost 612 men to the disease. Now 612 men between the age of 65 and 80 — that’s a lot of men for a small country like ours — men who were still breadwinners for their families, men who were caregivers, men who were still making a significant contribution to the development of this country,” Gordon told the Jamaica Observer.
She emphasised that these men’s lives could have been possibly saved if they were getting their annual screening, so early detection of the cancer could have taken place.
“Last year we screened over 1,200 men. In prior years we were screening under 500 men. That’s significant progress but is that where we need to be?” Gordon asked.
She stated that when the total target population, which is men between the age of 40 and 70 years, is examined, the number comes up to about 300,000 men but not even 10 per cent of that number is screened and that is where the society would like to get in a given year.
“For us to really tackle this problem of high prevalence in prostate cancer we really and truly have to increase our screening numbers. We have to expand our reach to more of the target population in order to be making the impact that is necessary,” Gordon said.
She said that this effort would include the Jamaica Cancer Society working in collaboration with other partners in public and private institutions, especially to direct empowerment and education efforts by going outside of the Corporate Area.
“We want to work through our branches. We have a branch that serves St Ann and St Mary, we have a branch in St Elizabeth, we have a presence out in Montego Bay and we are working through this branch network to try to expand our reach as there are a lot of underserved communities that are out there,” Gordon said.
As a result she said that men are unaware about the true nature of prostate cancer as they only know it’s a ‘bad thing’ and also do not know where they must go to get help. Gordon also explained that one of the major roles of the society is to bring necessary services to communities which have no access to them.
“We need to also bear in mind that in our economy only 15 per cent of Jamaicans, and this is based on the Jamaica health and lifestyle survey, have access to health insurance,” Gordon emphasised.
She said that this means only a small number of Jamaicans are able to access private health services and so the rest are predominantly dependent on the public health service which creates a big demand if these persons are not engaging in healthy lifestyle practices and doing annual screenings.
Gordond described it as really a grave concern to the Jamaica Cancer Society when the organisation hears these statistics, as when the availability of health services is examined, there is still a decline in the number of men who avail themselves to use the services.
“It is saying to us at the Jamaica Cancer Society that we need to do more in the area of education and empowerment to get the men to really take advantage of services,” Gordon told the Observer.
However, Gordon said that she is aware that cost can sometimes be a deterrent and even though the fees are highly subsidised, the organisation will not turn away anybody who needs help but cannot afford to pay the fees.
She recalled a case with a man who attended the Prostate Awareness Day activities on Friday but was not fortunate enough to be counted in the first 100 men that would get screened for free.
“He said to me ‘Miss I’m coming from Portmore, I miss out on the 100, but is only a $1,000 me have’… we don’t turn away anybody and we screen every day,” Gordon said.
She said that the society is open Monday to Friday and men can come in at any time to get the form done to do a PSA and schedule a visit to see the urologist as weekly opportunities are made to see them and also to visit the male clinic.
“When we look at it, Jamaica is still being defined as one of those nations with a high prevalence of prostate cancer because our men are primarily of African descent, which is a risk factor. It means we have to do more so we can’t stop talking about it,” Gordon said.
She said that the Cancer Society celebrates 60 years of fighting cancer in Jamaica and so this year is all about expansion, renewal and redoubling its efforts.
“Part of our stratergic objective is to reduce the incidence of preventable cancers through primary prevention and health promotion… and that is what happens during our special months of focus, the education, the screening, the necessary follow-ups, that is what we are hoping to achieve,” Gordon stated.
She said that the organisation is always on a recruitment drive to get more persons to become members of the Jamaica Cancer Society, insisting that it pays to be a member, as members get a 10 per cent discount at all times.
“You can go online and sign up. Payments can be made by using credit card and Paypal and its only $1,000 dollars for the year and we are always using the opportunity to encourage people to sign up because not only do you benefit as a member but you also enable the Jamaica Cancer Society to keep its doors open,” Gordon said.
Executive Director at the Jamaica Cancer Society, Yulit Gordon, speaks about the importance of screening in order to detect probable cases of prostate cancer.
Dr Aldyth Buckland conducts an information session about prostate cancer with this group of men who all turned out on Friday to take part in the Jamaica Cancer Society’s Prostate Cancer Awareness Day activities.
(PHOTOS: MICHAEL GORDON)