Every year, Barbados loses an average of 100 men to prostate cancer, a disease that gives them a chance of survival if they get tested early and corrective action is taken after detection.
However, the rate of check-ups for Bajan men continues to be low. The 100 men who die annually are out of 150 who test positive yearly. In the absence of confirming research data, it is believed that the high mortality rate is due to late detection as a result of tardy testing for this disease.
For this reason, retired registered nurse, Marlene Medford, found herself in the familiar position of health professionals imploring men on this island to get a check-up once they reach age 40, when prostate cancer tends to begin to develop. Even earlier testing is recommended for those with a family history of cancer.
“Early detection of a disease is critical. When you detect a condition early, it is easier to treat and the outcome is more favourable,” Medford said at the Valley Resource Centre, St George, where the Department of Community Development had sponsored a men’s health talk on cancer and collaborated with the Barbados Cancer Society to conduct free cancer screening for all the men present.
Medford continued: “Rather than staying away and saying ‘I don’t want to know what’s going on’ and, ‘you have to die anyway’, know your body, be proactive about your health. Don’t wait ’til something happens then to run to the doctor.
There are screenings available, get the screenings done and get to know what is going on in your body. Early detection is the key, I can’t overstate that.”
Medford addressed an audience of about 10 mostly middle-aged and older men, and two women. Her information drew many questions from the men, all of whom volunteered to be tested. Their main area of interest was whether cancer can be transmitted during sexual intercourse.
She advised that cancers are mainly in the category of non-communicable diseases and could not be transferred through intercourse, except in the case of human papilloma virus. She said that cells of the body become cancerous due to defects in their DNA or the genetic structure of the cell, which become ‘out of sync’, delivering incorrect information to those cells and causing them behave abnormally.
“The cells divide out of control rapidly and they build up. This rapid accumulation of cells form a cluster or lump which we call a tumor,” Medford explained. “The tumor can be malignant, or cancerous, or benign which is a tumor that doesn’t pose a health threat to the body,” she added, pointing to fibroids in women as a benign tumor.
Cancers are identified from the name of the tissue where they originate. For example, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, even if the malfunctioning cells migrate to another part of the body.
“Cancer of the prostate is the number-one of the top ten cancers in Barbados,” the veteran nurse said, adding that it “tends to grow slowly and it may be decades from the time of the earliest cell change until the cancer causes symptoms.
“You can’t see this with the naked eye,” she said, explaining that detection in the early stages comes through examination under a microscope.
She went on: “From the time the cells start to change and become abnormal, it takes a while before it reaches a stage of a lump that you can feel or something that causes problems.
“It takes years for cancer to develop. That is why it’s so important – in cancers that can be screened for – to get the screening because if they are caught early, the chance of cure and survival is enhanced.
“All men are at risk for prostate cancer, not only prostate cancer, other cancers as well because all of us have cells, so all of us are at risk, but some men are at higher risk than others.”
According to a University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Chronic Disease and Research Centre report, “prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Barbadian men… During the 10 year period commencing January 1995, the rate of deaths due to prostate cancer in Barbados ranged from 55 to 89 per 100,000”.
Given the facts and circumstances just outlined, Medford said, “my encouragement to you today is know your body, know what is going on in your body. Listen to your body. When there is a change, you pick it up. Get to know what is normal for you, so if there is a change, you pick it up quickly and you can get it checked out before the situation becomes worse”.