It’s somehow already September, which means that Prostate Cancer Awareness month is once again upon us; the campaign which reminds Kiwi men to make the trip to the doctors that they’ve been putting off and get the check that could save their life. However, it’s unfortunately not ‘business as usual’ for this year’s Blue September fundraiser as an ill-timed lockdown has stifled much of the work that the organisation had put in place to spread the good word. This ultimately hasn’t stopped the foundation, which currently receives no government funding, from doing everything it can to bring in the much-needed donations to allow the foundation to continue the fight against a disease that effects Kiwi men in the tens of thousands.
A large portion of the focus of this year’s campaign centres around raising awareness of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing, a simple blood test that works as a ‘first indicator’ for potential prostate issues, including prostate cancer. “(PSA testing) tells people to be on their guard and investigate further,” explains Prostate Cancer Foundation CEO, Peter Dickens, who expressed his dissatisfaction with how PSA testing in currently utilised in the New Zealand health system. Dickens explains that typically, “outcomes are much better if you detect the presence of prostate cancer before symptoms develop” and under the current system, GPs often only recommend PSA testing following the development of early symptoms. This, Dickens argues is directly contributing to “many men experiencing poorer outcomes and more men dying than should be” and he would like to see this change in the coming years.
Dickens and the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s pitch for an uptick in PSA testing has been wholeheartedly supported by several prominent national health experts, including Dr. Kamran Zargar, from the University of Auckland’s Department of Surgery, who decries that the current system does not test comprehensively enough; “Sometimes, a GP will suggest the test, other times it may be added to another group of unrelated blood tests but largely, men need to specifically ask for it. Worst of all, many men, whom for various reasons, don’t have the opportunity for regular GP visits, are never offered the test.”
Dickens also expresses an interest in seeing Kiwi men show more confidence in taking their health into their own hands and initiating their own exams, rather than waiting to be directed by their GP. He urges men over the age of 50 to get annual, unprompted prostate examinations and men between 40 and 50 to do so if they have a family history of cancer.
To say this month’s nationwide lockdowns, put in place following the emergence of the Delta variant in the community, were inconveniently timed for PCF, would be putting it lightly. “COVID has brought a whole raft of challenges” Dickens admits; “usually people would (raise money) with a Blue coffee morning or do a Blue fun run… and of course, restrictions have made it so that’s not possible”. Beyond the obvious practical limits on fundraising event, Dickens also notes that the significant portion of national attention going towards COVID-related issues has provided its own challenges in raising awareness for Blue September; “We want to make sure that people are still paying attention to those health issues that are effecting them outside of COVID”. With the current number of men battling the disease sitting at around 42,000, it’s easy to understand why Dickens and the foundation want to ensure that prostate cancer remains at the forefront of the national health conversation.
The fundraising target for this year’s Blue September has been set at a lofty $1 million NZD. Money which will have big impact in terms of what PCF will be able to do for those suffering with the disease on both a scientific and emotional level; “We exist to conduct research to try and improve diagnosing and treating the disease, but also to provide really high-quality support to those men and those around them, because prostate cancer is a diagnosis that affects the whole family”. The $1 million number might seem like an ambitious target given the circumstances but ultimately, according to Dickens, the number is representative of the need; “The problem is that big”.
To learn more about how you can support the Blue September campaign, head to blueseptember.org.nz