x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

'Don't leave it too late, shyness can have tragic consequences'

Prostate cancer, and its stigma, takes a toll when men find their symptoms too embarrassing.

A reluctance by some men to seek medical advice combined with a lack of awareness about diseases such as prostate cancer is taking its toll on their health.

"I think there is a definite psychological aspect in this culture where men are reluctant to make certain medical issues publicly aware," said Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, medical director at the American Centre of Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi.

"They can find it very embarrassing. However, the consequences to lives can be tragic."

Dr Abou Allaban, a consultant psychiatrist, said he had noticed a lingering stigma and embarrassment associated with prostate cancer.

Dr Osama Jaber, of the Uro Diagnostic Centre at Dubai Healthcare City, agreed there was still a certain "taboo" associated with the disease.

"They are really shy to talk about it," he said.

While some men will make the effort to see a general practitioner when they have symptoms, too few follow up with a urologist, Dr Jaber said.

"They do not want to talk about it and do not want to get checked for it. They are not like women who get checked for breast cancer for example. It is the male mentality here," Dr Jaber said.

A lack of information - both in statistics and awareness - is a problem in the UAE.

"We have breast cancer awareness, we need prostate cancer awareness. We really need to start talking about it. In the UAE we do not even have much data about prostate cancer," Dr Jaber said.

"It is not like the UK or the United States or other countries, so we do not know how many there are with this problem."

Dr Manaf Al Hashimi, a specialist in urology at Burjeel Hospital in the capital, agreed that ignorance was a problem with male patients, who he said tend to worry less about their health than women.

"They are not educated enough to have some information about the prostate gland itself and the high incidence of prostate cancer."

Men can also leave it too late to seek medical attention, which can be the difference between life and death.

"If it's prostate cancer, when they are presented very early the treatment will be radical, curative treatment - meaning the whole cancer will be removed and the whole story will be finished.

"But most of the patients with prostate cancer unfortunately are late here and that's why they are metastasised and the curative, radical treatment will not be applicable to them and it will be palliative, non-curative treatment."

Dr Abou Allaban said a culture of treating medical issues - rather than actively preventing them - is a cause for concern in the UAE and could lead to many preventable deaths.

"Culturally, here, it does not cross people's minds to prevent illnesses and to spend money to prevent illnesses. People do not think to have annual checks-ups like they do elsewhere such as in the United States.

"The difference between catching prostate cancer early on or spotting it in its later stages can be fatal," he said.

Prostate cancer affects one in six men, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), and the risk increases with age.

Although only one in 10,000 men under the age of 40 will receive the diagnosis, the rate shoots up to one in 38 for ages 40 to 59, and one in 14 for ages 60 to 69.

A man with a father or brother who had the disease is twice as likely to get it.

Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle are also risk factors.

Some symptoms that may indicate prostate cancer are a change in urinary or sexual function.

However, not everyone experiences symptoms. Many times, signs are first detected by a doctor during a routine check-up.

ecleland@thenational.ae

jbell@thenational.ae