22 December 2017

Australia best in region for prostate cancer,
but men's mental health at risk – new report

Australian men live longer after a diagnosis of prostate cancer than men diagnosed with the cancer elsewhere in Asia Pacific, but greater post-treatment mental health support is urgently needed, according to local advocates.

Launched today, the first of its kind whitepaper for Asia Pacific, 'A united voice for change: Priorities to improve outcomes and support for men living with prostate cancer in the Asia Pacific region' reveals that Australia has the best diagnosis-to-mortality ratio (11.2%) compared to China (47.2%), Japan (16.5%), Korea (15.2%) and Taiwan (25.1%). This ratio reflects the number of men who die prematurely following prostate cancer diagnosis, ranging from just over one-in-ten in Australia to nearly one-in-two in China.

The whitepaper was authored by the Prostate Cancer Patient Coalition – Asia Pacific, which was established to represent the needs of men with prostate cancer across the region. The Coaltion and whitepaper were supported by Janssen Asia Pacific.

Coalition member and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia Chief Executive Officer, Associate Professor Anthony Lowe, said that poor diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer in many parts of Asia Pacific was "little short of abysmal".

"This report is a stark reminder of how deadly this cancer can be and why early diagnosis and timely access to treatment is so important," Dr Lowe said.

"Australia may be ahead of the pack in Asia Pacific, but one premature death for every ten men diagnosed with prostate cancer is still one death too many," he said.

More than 20,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Australia each year, and approximately 3,300 men lose their lives to this cancer each year.

The whitepaper notes that the number of men diagnosed with and dying from prostate cancer is set to double by 2030 in Australia, rising from 3,300 Australian deaths in 2012 to more than 6,000 deaths in 2030. This trend reflects Australia's ageing population.

"While there is more understanding of prostate cancer in Australia than there was a decade ago, we need to ensure Australian men know what to ask their doctors so they don't miss out on timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment," Dr Lowe added.

The paper warns that while screening tests and effective treatments mean that many men are able to live for decades with prostate cancer, side-effects such as erectile, urinary or bowel dysfunction and depression can severely limit quality of life.

"Mental health support is paramount. Our goal is to increase the number of prostate cancer specialist nurses and develop integrated wellness programs for men who have undergone treatment," Dr Lowe said.

Dr Lowe explained that in most cases, a diagnosis of prostate cancer does not require immediate surgery, which means that "men should not feel rushed into treatment decisions".

"It is important for men to have open conversations with their doctors about the value of active surveillance and to take time to understand their options," said Dr Lowe.

Professor Damien Bolton, Head of the Austin Hospital’s Urology Unit in Melbourne, who co-chaired the inaugural meeting of the Prostate Cancer Patient Coalition – Asia Pacific, echoed Dr Lowe's comments about the importance of monitoring.

"Not every man with prostate cancer needs aggressive surgery or treatment. There is an important role for a watch and wait approach for men with slowly developing tumours," Professor Bolton said.

"The good news is that early detection and treatment can significantly improve prostate cancer survival, and the overtreatment of men with positive PSA scores has generally been well addressed by the medical community over the last five years.

"Australian men between the ages of 50 and 70 should consult their GP about a PSA test, particularly if there is a family history of this cancer in their family," Professor Bolton concluded.

A copy of the whitepaper is available here.