The death rate from prostate cancer in Jamaica is among the highest in the world, particularly so for men of African descent.

There are no reliable early signs of the disease; many symptoms overlap with the non-cancerous form of prostate cancer commonly known as ‘prostate enlargement’ and so are unreliable. The patient may be feeling perfectly well. By the time he starts to have symptoms, the disease may be advanced and incurable.

For these reasons, it is essential that men who are at-risk for developing this potentially deadly disease are identified and tested before the development of clinical signs and complications of illness, when attempts to cure the disease are most likely to be successful. The test simply consists of a blood test called the prostate specific antigen, and a quick, painless physical examination of the prostate done by a doctor in their office.

Caribbean men should begin testing at age 40, and this should be repeated annually or at an appropriate interval determined by their urologists. Persons at very low risk may be tested based on a more liberal schedule.

The majority of men will be found to have a low-grade, non-aggressive form of the cancer that only needs to be closely watched for progression. However, those with aggressive but curable forms of the disease are those who will benefit the most from early disease detection.

The options for cure for these men range from surgery to radiation. In contrast, those persons found to have the incurable form of the disease are still candidates for treatment that will delay or prevent complications of disease progression and improve their quality of life.

Dr Reaud Gafoor is a consultant urologist, minimally invasive surgery and kidney transplant surgeon and associate lecturer.

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