Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Men bearing cancer diagnosis, illness alone

Published:Tuesday | March 17, 2015 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Dr Belinda Morrison

A significant number of Jamaican men diagnosed with cancer are not only hiding the diagnosis from their spouses and other family members, but are also disappearing from the radar of doctors trying to help them.

In other instances also, family members of very elderly patients often beg doctors not to reveal cancer diagnoses to them, fearing they will fret themselves to death.

However, doctors are duty-bound to reveal the diagnosis in spite of family requests.

The revelations were among several which emerged during a discussion last week at a Gleaner Editors' Forum with medical practitioners and members of the Jamaica Cancer Society.

One of Jamaica's leading urologists, Dr Belinda Morrison, said there was still significant fear among Jamaican men for rectal examination, which is still the most accurate way of diagnosing enlarged prostates and prostate cancer.

"Counselling is important for all cancers, but especially for prostate cancer. I am very aware of my limitations. I am a urologist, not a counsellor; I don't have that skill set, but I try and I recognise the difference it makes when people have support," she told the meeting.

Support from relatives

According to her, women will often carry other relatives to hear a diagnosis and for support.

"But there are a lot a men who I diagnose for prostate cancer and they are the only ones I see from the day of diagnosis, and treatment, and even when it comes time for surgery. And you ask if there is someone you can call, and sometimes you don't have that person to call because they are doing it on their own," she said.

Cultural barriers, she said, were also major hindrances to diagnosis.

Among black American men in Detroit, USA, Morrison said a poll showed that the major issue preventing it was the fear of the diagnosis.

Some simply disappear after a diagnosis, and which has resulted in prostate cancer being the leading cause of cancer deaths among men in Jamaica.

She admitted, however, that it was a hard sell for a man to come into her office fine and be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"Fear of being told they have cancer is real. That is why the health-seeking behaviour between men and women was different. Women were more likely to seek treatment than men. Not just for screening for cancers, but if you go to the hospitals, who do you see most? Women," she stated.

She said that the recommended screening age for prostate was at age 40 years.

Morrison said in the United States, almost all men are screened for prostate cancer, and once screening is taking place, the numbers of positive diagnoses will increase.

"Therefore, of the men diagnosed with prostate cancer there, 90 per cent are diagnosed at a localised stage ... ," said Morrison.

Hiding diagnosis was not singular to men, as obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Matthew Taylor said women were also hiding cancer diagnoses.

"A lot of patients hide the diagnosis of cancer. They will not tell their relatives. So not only do people have fears about being diagnosed, they hide the diagnosis," he said.