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The drive to talk about male-specific cancers

February 14, 2019

With the health of truck drivers continually increasing in importance, shouldn’t the list of health concerns also include one of the most prevalent killers of men in the country?

It’s a well-known fact that South African truck drivers lead terribly unhealthy lifestyles. Long hours on the road for days at a time with little chance for physical activity; high-fat, high-carb, high-sugar diets that result in diabetes; and exposure to drugs, alcohol and HIV/Aids are all major concerns.

Thanks to initiatives like Trucking Wellness, South African truck drivers are learning about the risks to which they are exposed. They also have the opportunity to receive testing and counselling, and are encouraged and taught to lead healthier lives. However, with the majority of drivers being male, the focus should also be on two other concerns: prostate and testicular cancer.

I was inspired to write about this after attending the launch of the 2019 Hollard Daredevil Run, which will take place on March 15.

For the ninth year, the Hollard Daredevil Run will again aim to open the conversation and raise awareness around these male-specific cancers. Considering that South Africa has one of the highest rates of metastatic prostate cancer (meaning it has advanced to other parts of the body and is incurable) in the world, it’s fair to assume that this is a risk faced by many truck drivers.

According to Andrew Oberholzer, CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), if prostate cancer is detected early, 98 percent of men will still be alive after five years. In the case of MPC, the survival rate after five years is just 30 percent.

“In South Africa the majority of our population is black and, while black males are unlikely to get testicular cancer, their risk of prostate cancer is unfortunately about 70-percent higher than that for white men.

“We don’t know why, it’s probably genetic, but it’s essential that black men start screening for prostate cancer by the age of 40 (especially if there is a history of cancer in the family). All other men should start screening from the age of 45,” he says.

Lucy Balona, head: marketing and communication at the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) explains that prostate cancer generally affects older men, but testicular cancer tends to affect younger men. “It’s affecting a lot of guys in their 30s,” she says.

In both cases, early detection is vital and, for the majority of South African men, it’s up to them to initiate the process. Learning to detect signs of testicular cancer is easy enough for any man, but detecting prostate cancer requires a prostate-specific antigen (or PSA) test.

Oberholzer explains: “The majority of South African men will come in only when there are symptoms; meaning the cancer has already spread. The treatment for prostate cancer has a massive impact on a man’s life… If it’s advanced MPC, the only way to stop the cancer is to take the testosterone from the body. Testosterone is the male hormone; it gives men their drive, energy and muscle mass. The negative effects of this treatment are immense.”

David Lucas, a survivor of prostate cancer and the original instigator of the Daredevil Run, comments: “Cancer doesn’t know age or race, it doesn’t care who you are.

“In the old days, ‘cowboys didn’t cry’ and saying ‘cancer’ was like swearing. You didn’t talk about it, and today that’s still very much true. People still believe it’s because of something they’ve done wrong in their life, but once you are told you have cancer, your life is turned around,” he relates.

Last year, Hollard donated more than R500 000 to CANSA and the PCF thanks to the Daredevil Run. It’s also launched the Guynae campaign to remind men through the year that early detection saves lives.

Most importantly, the sight of thousands of men of all ages and races running through the streets of Johannesburg in purple speedos has opened the conversation around male-specific cancers and helped to take away some of the shame and stigma around them.

My plea is thus for no truck driver – in fact, no man in the transport and logistics industry – to be left out.

Let’s do our bit to beat another disease that threatens the lives of those fathers, sons and brothers who move South Africa.

My life has always revolved around anything with wheels and an engine. It doesn’t matter if its an old banger, the latest hot-hatch or a fancy 4×4 – any excuse is a good excuse to take it for a cruise, spank it at the track or go bundu-bashing (the mud-and-rocks-side-of-a-mountain type, not the exploring-Joburg’s-pavements type). Otherwise, chances are you’ll find me lying underneath one of my beloved toys or with my head buried in its engine bay, tinkering away.

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