Health practitioners have not been proactive enough in getting men aged 40 and over to screen for prostate cancer, which kills just over 4,000 Jamaican men each year.
At the same time, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton yesterday revealed that many doctors have been avoiding getting themselves screened for the potentially deadly disease.
Dr Tufton raised the concerns at the launch of a campaign dubbed “Bossman” to increase awareness, encourage screening, and change the narrative about prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer accounts for approximately 24 per cent of the country’s cancer-related deaths each year and is the most common cancer in the island. Jamaica also has one of the highest prevalence rates of prostate cancer in the world.
Dr Tufton said that, according to a study done by the University Hospital of the West Indies, although 85 per cent of doctors are aware of the tests to be done for prostate cancer, only 40 per cent of them recommend prostate cancer screening for their male patients over age 40.
“The challenge is two-fold — it is a challenge for the men, they don’t want to go and do the test [out of] fear of one form or another. But what is even worse, going by the study I have seen, even in the medical profession, practitioners hesitate to do the tests themselves. We really have a dilemma… when you dissect the whole issue and try to understand the challenge you realise it’s a bigger problem than we really think,” he stated.
Dr Tufton said only 41 per cent of the doctors surveyed have themselves been tested. “So they are also victims of this stigma and lack of action or inaction.”
“The substance of that message is that, in public health, some of the solutions [to the problems] aren’t all within how many hospitals you have, it’s just following some of the best practices that are required, and in the case of prostate cancer early detection through testing is absolutely critical,” he said.
Dr Tufton stressed that enough time has therefore not been spent on creating high levels of awareness, and as such the stigma and anecdotes around prostate cancer screening have overtaken scientific facts.
“The tragedy of it is that those perception issues, even though they are anecdotal, have become greater influencers in terms of taking responsibility and doing something, than the clinically proven and tried issues to deal with the problem. And that poses a significant challenge; we have to overcome that.”
He pointed out that prostate cancer has far-reaching implications including pain and suffering to individuals, families, and communities, as well as pressure on the public health system.
“It adds to the burden of our illness profile in the country and begs a response that goes beyond putting in hospital beds and operating theatres, but also carrying a message to overcome some of the perceptions that are associated with cancer,” Dr Tufton said.
The six-month Bossman campaign will target men through a series of community activities, including free testing and engaging key influencers. It will culminate in a media campaign to ramp up awareness.
There were 1,309 new cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in Jamaica in 2018, representing 17.8 per cent of all cancers. The majority of cases were diagnosed at an advanced stage due to low levels of testing among men.
Jamaica Cancer Society Executive Director Yulit Gordon said, given the prevalence of prostate cancer in Jamaica, screening should become a national policy, ensuring that all males over the age of 40 years have access to the procedure, both in the public and private health sectors.
Black men are at a higher risk than other races for prostate cancer. Other risk factors include age, family history and lifestyle.
The Jamaica Cancer Society says one in eight Jamaican men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.