“Raising awareness” can sometimes feel like the equivalent of calling for more education – it is a noble concept, and easy to agree with, yet one that can prove hard to quantify its effectiveness.
Not so with the Get a Little Prick campaign, say prostate cancer trials leader and radiation oncologist Professor Jim Denham on prostate cancer detection rates.
While there are undoubtedly other factors in play, the size of the Hunter’s changes in mortality rates and detection between 2007 and 2014 are remarkable. The reversion, and loss of the gains made in those years, is equally as striking.
“It does look rather like people, the general public, even perhaps ourselves, said ‘Look, that’s it, we’ve done it now. So that’s it,” Professor Denham says.
Professor Denham’s commitment to effective treatment cuts to the core of the matter: talk is simply not enough. Yet it is a starting point to more decisive action, a point likely reached only if the pressure is continually applied. It is hard to see how the job can be considered done. In 2014, 150 men died in the Hunter New England Health district due to the disease. For their friends and families, and also for health authorities, any reduction in this number is worthwhile.
There are doubts about prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing’s efficiency as a diagnostic tool, namely that it does not indicate prostate cancer infalliby and can lead to overtreatment.
They are valid issues worth assessing, but the argument could also be made that a less precise tool to find a potentially lethal growth is better than nothing at all.
Medical experts regularly bemoan the stoicism of men in failing to go to the doctor or discuss their mental health. Stereotype or not, it is a barrier that has preoccupied physicians enough that it has become ingrained. Writing in 2016, Rutgers University psychology associate professor Diana Sanchez and postdoctoral scholar Mary Himmelstein claimed men can expect to die approximately five years sooner than women.
Any step that can address that deadly silence seems a positive one, and despite being “tacky” it is campaigns like Get a Little Prick that can apparently help dismantle it with humour. The statistics seem clear that it did not hinder efforts to address prostate health in the Hunter during its years of operation. Over its 18 months, the campaign cost an estimated $400,000. Among its biggest advocates are survivors of this disease. These are men who have been on both sides of the fence, as advocates and as those who made perhaps one of the most frightening discoveries. “It’s fear,” says Brendon Young of why many avoid being tested. “They don’t want to know.”
The days of that standing as an acceptable excuse for failing to safeguard one’s own health must be brought to an end. If the means to do that can include an education campaign, it seems folly to let it fall by the wayside – particularly if benefits go with it.