According to the National Cancer Institute, about 11.2% of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. When caught early and treated, the five-year survival rate is 100%.
When Prostate Cancer Awareness Week began in 1989, my hospital decided the best way to educate the public about prostate cancer was through screening. We offered men in the high-risk group (ages forty to seventy-five) free prostate checks, and about a hundred men preregistered. Participants had their blood drawn for the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and received a physical exam from a urologist, who felt the participants’ prostate gland for size and the presence of lumps. An abnormal finding on the exam or an elevated PSA led to a recommendation of follow-up and a biopsy.
As the patient education coordinator and someone experienced with community outreach events, I was selected to assist with the first screening. They gave me a choice of being the nurse in the exam room, who opened the KY jelly package and squirted a glob of lubricant onto the doctor’s gloved index finger before inserting it up the rear-facing participant’s rectum, or the nurse at the check-out desk, who handed patients an informational brochure and a physican referral. It took a nanosecond to choose the latter, though it turned out to be the more challenging post. I had to think quickly to address participants’ concerns:
“Thank you, dear. This has been great. I want to bring my wife back so she can have hers checked too.” I had to figure out how to tell him that women don’t have prostates.
“I never knew until today what my doctor was doing when he put his finger up there. This doctor explained everything as he did it.” I acknowledged his frustration. Some doctors have the bedside manner of a car mechanic–no wonder patients are afraid to speak up.
“I heard those seeds they put up the prostrate to kill off the cancer can mess with my manhood. I’m not giving that up if my test comes back bad.” I empathized with his dilemma and encouraged him to discuss his sexual performance concerns with his doctor (talk about the “prostate blues,” in those pre-Viagra days).
Since that initial screening several decades ago, the campaign to raise awareness about prostate cancer has increased from one week in September to the entire month.