Bringing prostate cancer issues to light

Dave Hughes (pictured) is the only community-based prostate cancer nurse in NSW and one of only a handful across Australia - a statistic he's working hard to change.

Dave works at Bangalow Community Health Centre, helping men through the difficult journey of prostate cancer from diagnosis and beyond, and will be one of the guest speakers at a prostate cancer seminar next Saturday, September 19, in Lismore.

He said lots of research shows that men are hesitant to access men's health services, but laments there are very few services they can actually access.

“We have child and family health services, women's services, but we don't have a discreet service that specifically targets men... it's just an historical thing,” Dave said. “The shoe's on the wrong foot and we need to put it on the right foot and set up services that men can access. That's why I got into men's health - I was shocked to discover the field didn't really exist.”

Dave has co-written a graduate unit on men's health for the College of Nursing in Sydney, which is the only tertiary-based men's health course in Australia.

He believes the North Coast Area Health Service has been progressive in employing him as a community prostate cancer nurse, and said just like women who have breast care nurses to support them, men need someone to guide them once they discover they have prostate cancer.

“If a bloke goes to a urologist and has a biopsy and finds that he has prostate cancer he has very little community support of any type to help him with what to do next, and there are a lot of decisions he has to make in terms of treatment and lifestyle,” Dave said. “I look at things like erectile function, incontinence, lifestyle, depression, and things like that. It's rewarding for me in that men and their partners are able to understand the prostate cancer journey and make informed decisions and be comfortable with those decisions.”

He is now working with the Prostate Cancer Foundation on the development of a concept called 'Prostate Cancer Support Nursing' which he would like to see rolled-out nationally. But funding from the government is essential to get it up and running.

“The prostate nurse would do pre-therapy support and education and liaison. For instance, getting men fit and healthy for surgery. It's abdominal surgery so getting fit and healthy is important,” he said. “Then afterwards they'd help them with techniques for recovery and also liaise with them and their partner to look at sexual rehabilitation and intimacy needs after therapy.”

He said while there are “bits and pieces” men can access now, such as seeing an incontinence specialist in hospital, he believes men need continuity of care and time.

“Urologists are very busy men so you might only get 15 minutes, whereas my first session would typically be one to two hours and it's a free service provided by the Area Health Service,” he said. “For instance, one of the main long-term side effects of prostate cancer is impotence and often men see themselves as sexual beings, so if they become impotent overnight due to therapy they need some ongoing targetted support to deal with those issues.

“I can do follow-up sessions sometimes three or four years down the track. There's a bloke coming in this week who I haven't seen for a year and is only now experiencing problems. He didn't know where to go except to come and see me.”

He said because men don't often go to see a doctor, when they do get diagnosed with prostate cancer it can often reveal a host of other problems, so there are compound health issues to deal with.

He said having community-based prostate cancer nurses would save the government money as simple lifestyle changes and proper support may alleviate other problems, such as diabetes or depression, so there's a flow-on effect.

“You have to develop a service to a critical mass to prove you need the service but what do you then do when you have too many people to see?” Dave said. “30,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer last year and about 3,000 died. It's not talked about very much, but it's a really big issue.”

The prostate cancer seminar is being hosted by the Northern Rivers Prostate Cancer Support Group and will be held at Lismore City Hall on September 19 from 9am. Joining Dave as guest speakers are Graeme Higgs from the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and urologist Dr Charles Chabert.

There will be a free home-cooked morning tea and time for men and their families to ask questions, plus a free barbecue afterwards.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and men over 50 are actively encouraged to attend the seminar.

For more information phone Graham Howie on 6628 0624.

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