Why I’m urging other men to get checked for prostate cancer

Nigel Holligan found out he had the disease after he visiting his GP for a test in 2013.

                              Why I'm urging other men to get checked for prostate cancer

The diagnosis of late-stage prostate cancer has reached an all-time high, according to figures from the male cancer charity Orchid.

Their research found 42.5% of British men diagnosed with the disease find out in the later stages.

As Orchid launches Male Cancer Awareness Week to increase public knowledge of the condition, a former prostate cancer patient has told Sky News about his experience with the illness.

Nigel Holligan is also the founder member of the Association of Prostate Awareness, which works to increase understanding of the condition among black African and black Caribbean communities.

I knew I was at high risk of prostate cancer as my mother had breast cancer and my father and two maternal uncles had prostate problems.

It was important that I practiced what I preached and I went to my GP for a prostate-specific antigen test (PSA) once I reached my late 50s.

I had a raised PSA reading, and found out through a digital rectal examination (DRE) that I also had an enlarged prostate.

I then had a couple more tests to compare PSA levels, followed by a biopsy and then a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) to confirm the diagnosis.

After my diagnosis in 2013 I was naturally very nervous and, at 60-years-old, acutely aware of my age at the time.

Clearly I had to make informed decisions about what treatment options were available, and I chose the proctectomy, being fully aware of the prospect of the possible side effects.

I was acutely aware that I had children and grandchildren, so it was not a major consideration to me in terms of whether or not I became infertile, whether or not I would have erectile dysfunction.

Other side effects can include trouble passing urine, trouble with bowel movements and slower wound healing.

Both my partner and I agreed that what was of most importance was my health and wellbeing, and this treatment offered the potential that the cancer would be removed, and that was one fear eliminated.

It was something that I had to share with the family and it was a role and a journey that we all had to embrace and thankfully, once it was discussed, the same thing was said.

                              Why I'm urging other men to get checked for prostate cancer

One of my children told me: “Dad you must make that important decision. Your life, your wellbeing, is more important to us than anything else and you do what you believe is best for you and us.”

I appreciated that there was a 50% risk of the side effects, but my primary focus was with the removal of something from my body which hoped to extend my life – there was no comparison.

Consequently, the important thing was to ensure that we acted straight away as opposed to waiting.

The ultimate thing was survival and being close to the family.

I had to have faith that the procedure would be successful and thankfully it was.

I was treated at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and then University College Hospital in London and the prostate team that helped me was excellent.

Although my children were upset, they were reassured by my confidence in a positive outcome associated with early presentation and the medical expertise of the team treating me.

I went back to work after a month off and experienced some stress incontinence, but again with the support of my colleagues, partner and family, whom I have a very open relationship with, I was able to put these side effects into perspective.

It is important for black African and black Caribbean men in particular to have an annual health check, as they are at higher risk of prostate cancer, but all men need to recognise that a PSA test is only an indicator of prostate cancer and they should have a second or third test to compare readings.

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They should also have a DRE in conjunction to provide a more definitive result.

I hope the next generation will realise that they have a responsibility to themselves and their families to go for PSA tests and DRE examinations and that their lives could be saved with earlier presentation.

They also need to realise that prostate cancer isn’t necessarily as frightening a diagnosis as they think as most men will die with prostate cancer rather than from it.

As a founder of the Association for Prostate Awareness (APA), I recognise that black men are notoriously reluctant to seek medical help and have screening examinations, so wives and partners are also invited to join the association to encourage men to recognise their risk and symptoms and prompt them to visit their GP.

So my advice to all men who may be at risk of prostate cancer or have any unusual symptoms is to go and visit their GP at the earliest opportunity and have an open and honest discussion about their concerns and the options available to them.

Do not put it off.

I whole-heartedly support awareness campaigns such as Orchid’s “FACE up to prostate cancer”, which encourages men and GPs to remember four simple risk factors for prostate cancer.


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