Sunday 18 November 2018

'I had no symptoms so it was a shock when I was diagnosed' - Father-of-three on prostate cancer diagnosis

Almost 3,500 men in Ireland are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Father-of-three, Tom Hope never expected to be one of them, writes Arlene Harris. Now he is urging other men to be more vigilant

When Tom Hope found out he had prostate cancer he was shocked, but thanks to early detection he is now in good health. Pictured in his garden near Dunboyne. Photo: Tony Gavin
When Tom Hope found out he had prostate cancer he was shocked, but thanks to early detection he is now in good health. Pictured in his garden near Dunboyne. Photo: Tony Gavin

Prostate cancer affects almost 3,500 men in Ireland each year - that's one in seven men being diagnosed with the condition annually. But while these figures are alarming, it is a very treatable form of cancer, particularly if detected early.

During the month of November, the Movember campaign aims to encourage men to report to their GP if they are worried about any aspect of their health, as early treatment for conditions such as prostate cancer can have a very positive outcome.

Tom Hope is living proof, as thanks to regular routine check-ups he discovered that he had prostate cancer and is now under surveillance to ensure it is kept under control.

"In 2009 on an annual visit to my doctor to get my blood pressure checked, he took blood samples that I presumed were part of a normal annual check," says the 71-year-old. "But about a week later he contacted me to say that there some high blood test readings and he would like me to visit an urologist to have them checked out.

"At this stage I didn't realise what the readings were, or what they might mean, but I visited the urologist who explained what the prostate gland was, what function it performed and what the PSA (prostate specific antigen) readings represented. Because of a jump in the PSA readings from 2.9 to 4.5, my doctor was concerned and it was felt that I should undergo a biopsy which should clarify the cause of the rise in the PSA. After which, I was asked to come back to the urologist and bring my wife with me."

Just 62 at the time, the father-of-three didn't expect to be told he had cancer and had to make the difficult decision regarding whether or not to have treatment, which could result in side effects.

"At the visit the consultant informed me that I had low grade prostate cancer," says the Meath man. "This was a total shock as I had no symptoms or any difficulty with my urinary function and I was given the option of surgery to remove the prostate, (which carried a risk of incontinence) or active surveillance, which involved getting a blood test every six months to monitor my PSA and visiting my urologist every six months and getting a digital rectal examination (DRE) to monitor the status of the cancer.

"I talked over the options with my wife and decided to follow active surveillance as I didn't wish to risk incontinence. I could always opt for surgery at a later stage if I changed my mind if it was absolutely necessary and I also explained my decision to my three adult children.

"But the most challenging issue was accepting that I had prostate cancer - I hadn't caused it, I didn't drink or smoke and exercised regularly. However, it was unlikely to cause me any difficulty or kill me. "

Indeed Kevin O'Hagan, Cancer Prevention Manager of Irish Cancer Society says most men do not die from the condition, but it is still important to be vigilant.

"Most prostate cancers are found when they are early, many are slow growing, and symptoms may not happen for many years if they happen at all - and men with early prostate cancer are unlikely to have any symptoms," he says.

"Because early prostate cancer does not usually cause any symptoms, it is often identified through regular check-ups. If you are over 50, you should see your doctor every year for an examination. If you have a family history you should have regular check-ups from the age of 40, as your GP can check for the possibility of prostate cancer when you have no symptoms. A check-up should include a digital rectal examination of the prostate gland and a special blood test called the PSA blood test.

"Although there are many men living with prostate cancer, most men do not die from it - and in most cases it can be cured or kept under control."

The main treatments for prostate cancer are active surveillance, external beam radiotherapy, hormone therapy, brachytherapy, surgery, chemotherapy and watchful waiting - and each case is individual.

"The best treatment depends on a number of things, such as the stage and grade of your cancer (how much your cancer has spread and how fast it is growing), any symptoms you have, your general health, your age and your personal preference," says the expert. "And with improvement in treatments, the five year survival rate for prostate cancer is now over 90pc.

"While having prostate urinary symptoms can be a sign of prostate cancer, more often they are caused by a harmless enlargement of the prostate, which is common as you get older."

Tom Hope's prostate cancer was spotted because he was vigilant about going for routine check-ups. He also was diagnosed with a malignant skin melanoma which was caught and treated early for the same reason.

Today he is well and healthy and would encourage other men to be aware of their bodies and seek help if anything is worrying them. And to also attend routine examinations and find out as much as possible about health services which are available to all.

"My oncologist commented that I was lucky to have my skin cancer identified early as often it is only when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body that it is identified," says Tom who retired as the finance director of Barnardo's in 2013. "Over the years I have found great comfort and support in meeting and talking to other men who had been diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer and were living normal lives 15 years or more after diagnosis.

"I attend the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) survivor's conference every year to keep up-to-date on the treatment options, so that if I do have to decide on a treatment I am fully aware of the choices available. In May 2013 I became part of their support services talking to patients who were referred from the ICS help desk or the Daffodil Centres. In 2014 I joined Men Against Cancer (MAC) - a support group for men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and became part of their committee.

"I am also a member of several other committees and now, nine years later after two further biopsies, both of which came back clear and my PSA's are moving in the range 2.7 to 7.3, so I am in really good health, thanks to early detection."

FACTBOX: Prostate cancer

⬤ Prostate cancer happens when the normal cells in the prostate gland change and grow to form a mass of cells called a tumour.

⬤ Early prostate cancer doesn't normally cause any symptoms. It usually only causes symptoms when it has grown large enough to disturb your bladder or press on the tube that drains urine, causing problems passing urine.

⬤ These symptoms are called prostate urinary symptoms and include a slow flow of urine, trouble starting or stopping the flow, passing urine more often, especially at night, pain when passing urine and the feeling of not emptying the bladder fully.

⬤ In Ireland, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, after skin cancer.

⬤ Each year over 3,300 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer here. This means that one-in-seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime.

⬤ Less common symptoms include, pain in lower back, hips or upper thighs, trouble getting or keeping an erection, blood in the urine or semen.

⬤ It is important to visit your GP if you have any worries or if you have any of these symptoms so that they can be discussed and assessed.

⬤ For more information visit cancer.ie or contact the cancer nurseline on freephone 1800 200 700, email cancernurseline@irishcancer.ie or drop into one of 13 Daffodil Centres in hospitals nationwide.

⬤ Movember partners with the Irish Cancer Society and are the primary contributor to their prostate cancer programmes. Funds help provide information, support and care to those affected by prostate cancer, as well as funding vital cancer research.

⬤ To get involved check out movember.com

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