The Government has unveiled plans for a nationwide prostate cancer awareness programme – one of the first in the world – that aims to see men getting diagnosed sooner and improving the rate of survival.
Men are being urged to pick up a new booklet from their GP and complete a checklist of symptoms.
It is the first part of a $4.3 million programme to raise awareness for prostate cancer.
There will also be additional information given to medical practitioners and more guidance on testing and referrals for specialist treatment.
Prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer in men in New Zealand.
More than 3000 cases are registered each year, the Ministry of Health says. About four in every 100 male deaths are due to prostate cancer.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said there was a need to get a “clear message” out there.
Patients hadn’t always been given a consistent message, and that meant fewer men were being screened than should be.
“This is the first time a New Zealand government has had such a focus on prostate cancer awareness and ensuring men can easily access the latest evidence based information.”
In 2011, the health select committee recommended the ministry set up a prostate cancer programme to improve screening and treatment. A taskforce was set up to implement the recommendations last year, and found significant gaps in the information currently provided to men.
Wellington GP Samantha Murton said the new resources provided a “conversation starter” with patients.
While it may seem like a small step, prostate cancer was different to the likes of breast and cervical cancer in that testing was not always reliable and it was hard to define who might be more vulnerable.
Because of that, few countries in the world had any kind of awareness programme for the disease.
Urologist John Nacey said considerable work was being done globally to address this.
But a large part of the problem was that testing for prostate cancer was unreliable.
“For example, between pathologists, there can be an awful lot of variation between tests, and while 10 different pathologists’ tests would be similar, we need to get diagnoses far closer aligned.”
That was important so men could be told accurately what lay ahead in terms of treatment, Professor Nacey said.
The causes of prostate cancer were still largely unknown, and it wasn’t practical to test every man over 50.
“There is a genetic element, but other than that we just don’t know.”
Countries such as Australia and the United States would be watching the programme’s success closely, he said.