The Last Frontier, Men’s Health

Dr Judith O’Malley-Ford

The 21st century is well upon us, and the scientific and health landscape is rapidly changing, yet there are still new horizons to conquer. The final frontier does not lie in a distant galaxy it is much closer to home. Look no further than the place where men fear to tread: men’s health.

The prostate gland, which rarely sees the light of day, is suddenly in the spotlight and cancer is the focus. Prostate cancer (PrC) is not just a disease of men, but a disease of couples, especially when issues of manhood and masculinity are at stake. Surgery for PrC may result in erectile problems and urinary incontinence. These make up the very fabric that constitutes masculinity, wherein lies the reluctance to contemplate prostate screening. Can men learn to address this difficult topic, or are they too often reluctant to discuss it until it is too late?

Advances in technology have been the driving force to further advances in medical treatments. The slow trickle of progress in newly found horizons of information has suddenly become a torrent of new information. Advancements in new ways of thinking and solving the reluctance of men to undergo prostate screening and treatment are major steps forward for all men. All of which is good news for managing the medical problems facing an ageing population in the future.

Early diagnosis of PrC remains critical, as it does with all cancers, to ensure the best possible outcome for men. Finding ways of minimising the unwanted effects of surgery is another vital step in the quest for diagnosing and treating PrC. Often, some cancers can present at a time when the disease is already advanced. PrC is one of a few cancers where this applies. Some families carry an inherited risk for certain cancers in their DNA, which predisposes them to these diseases, e.g. PrC, breast cancer, and bowel cancer.

There is a great debate about the pros and cons of surgical intervention for some men with PrC. The basis for this argument is that the disease will outlive the patient. But more recently we are being told that we will outlive our superannuation savings, and increasing numbers of us will live to a hundred. These two previous statements are therefore incongruous and counterintuitive to the trend of inactivity we are seeing in screening for PrC and early treatment.

People are afraid of the ‘c’ word, in any of its many forms, and so why should PrC warrant no action in some cases? Some reasons are offered, but in reality, fear of the side-effects of surgical intervention and the absence of a reliable diagnostic test are the basis of this fear, and rightly so. New discoveries that improve the diagnostic power of a screening test for PrC are powerful tools for the future of early diagnosis, and the basis of scientific methodology in new treatment methods. As the population ages, the incidence of cancer is expected to become a more significant factor in the lives of people everywhere. Some have said that we are facing a cancer epidemic in the future, therefore early diagnosis has never been more imperative.

It is a great step forward for the world of medicine and the community when a whole new diagnostic method becomes available for the early diagnosis and ongoing treatment monitoring in cancer. Creative thinking and original thought often challenge the status quo. Creative thinking needs support from like-minded people regardless of their scientific discipline. Embracing new technology produces important new principles in problem solving. Cancer will affect family life, business, personal finances, and national productivity. We all therefore have a role to play. With the right tools, cancer screening in the future will include PrC. In the future, large investments will be made in combating this disease.

We are improving women’s health without question. We also have the ability to improve men’s health in the future. We should seize every opportunity. Knowledge and far-sighted visions are the dreams that enabled man to walk on the moon, and spacecraft to land on Mars. It enabled another spacecraft to track down a comet zooming through space. This is the wonder of science. Scientific technology and knowledge are constantly expanding and thus, using technology to improve diagnostic methods for PrC should be within our reach.


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