Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: Cancer awareness

A cairn on a rocky surface

The month of November is an important time for men’s health and men’s cancer awareness. Look out for the signs along the way!

Have you seen any extra stubble in your community over the last three days?

November is a great month for cancer support for men because all the lads seem to grow extra-long moustaches to raise awareness for the cause of prostate cancer. This is a good cause, indeed, and needs more support, however I am continually reminded that when it comes to cancer, there is more than the prostate involved and that testing for prostate cancer is something that needs careful discussion with your doctor. Approximately 4,100 men die each year from prostate cancer in Canada.

The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, which advises doctors on the benefits of the prostate-specific antigen test (PSA), recommends that screening by PSA should not be done without detailed discussion with the man involved as there are risks involved from harms done through unnecessary treatment.

This is largely due to the nature of the different types of prostate cancer, some of which grow very slowly and some of which are fast-growing. Dr. Mike has a great explanatory video on YouTube.

What about those other cancers? Here’s a short rundown of the worst offenders:

Take testicular cancer, for example. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, in Canada in 2010, 40 men died from testicular cancer.

This is a cancer that can be cured if discovered early and that is why we encourage men (especially young men) to check themselves out. It is a sad thing to lose so many young men to this and it is better to go through life with one less than the alternative.

TIP: Check for lumps or bumps in the shower. 15 -35 is the most common age group for testicular cancer but it can occur at any age so just keep an eye out for anything that isn’t normal for you. HealthLinkBC has some more information on examining yourself.

Similarly, colorectal cancer kills approximately 5,100 men according to Canadian Cancer Society and is silent until well-developed.

That’s why the FIT test is recommended every two years after 50 years of age. This can be followed up by colonoscopy if anything requires further exploration.

Diets high in red meat and processed meats are a risk factor. Physical inactivity is a risk factor, as is obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol use. Diets high in vegetables and fruit lower risk and perhaps offer some protection.

Lung cancer is responsible for 10,900 deaths per year in Canada. Smoking causes 50% of all lung cancers – which is one of the reasons we keep saying “please stop smoking.” If everybody stopped smoking, there would be 5,450 fewer deaths from this disease within a few short years. There are currently no screening tests for lung cancer.

Skin cancer is also rising in numbers. HealthLinkBC has a good article here on what to look for.

The common thread? Changes.

No matter what it is: unusual lumps or bumps, changes in bowel habit, coughing up blood or blood in the toilet. Don’t be embarrassed – go get it checked out! Keep an eye on moles and if you see changes, you know what to do! Yes – check it out with your doctor!

If you bury your head in the sand, they might just bury the rest of you with it.

It only takes a simple appointment. And while you’re at it, ask what other screening options are available to you.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Sun is fun but you need to take precautions

Airplane in a sunny sky

If you’re out in the sun – maybe taking in Quesnel’s SkyFest this weekend – be sure to take precautions like wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

I just heard about a new skin disease. Well, it’s as new to me as this lump on my head. Funny, that! Here’s what happened:

Bald guy shaves head, notices a lump about size of sixpence (bigger than a penny, smaller than a nickel for you Canadians!) that feels like sandpaper and is real itchy.

Bald guy’s inside voice thinks, “What is that? Don’t know, but it’s OK.”

Eventually, I visit my doc for something else.

Lo and behold, the doctor he sees the lump and pronounces: actinic keratosis!

“What’s that about my hairy toes?” I think.

Actinic keratosis. The sun has damaged my skin. I mention this because as we age, it is so easy to discount certain things as occurring “just because” we are getting older. Some of them are linked to simply getting older and some are not, so it really is best to get thoroughly checked out if you’re suspicious of anything. It can do no harm. I messed up this time and should’ve connected with my doctor after that first itch. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

I had had this lump for about 4 months and thought, “it’s OK, it will heal next week.” And then when it did not heal, I would say to myself, “it does not look like a melanoma to me, so I will wait and see.” And so I waited 4 months and finally asked my doctor as an aside after much prompting from wife.

So, looking back and given the fact that I am always telling others to get checkups, why did I just ignore the lump and my own advice and chalk it up to “getting older”? I think that I did so for the same reason as a lot of other guys do: I just thought that this was no big deal. That I would be OK. Luckily for me, I was – but what if I was not?

Actinic keratosis is a skin disorder that can be pre-cancerous but, luckily, is very easily treated with nitrous oxide. It can, however, develop into squamous cell cancer, which, although also easily removed, can get into the lymphatic system and spread. This, of course, is not such a good outcome but is mostly avoidable by paying attention to the skin around the areas exposed to the sun, like the top of your head, ears, face, shoulders and chest.

So, sun is fun, but make sure you cover up and take precautions! HealthLink BC has some information about that.

I am a pink flamingo, never tanned in my life, but I do like the sun. Even today, I caught myself out in the yard without a hat.

Doing the right thing is not so easy sometimes, but my summertime resolution is to cover up and wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen and shades when I am outdoors. Even if I add long sleeves and pants to the mix, there is no reason why I should not be still enjoying the good weather.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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