The uncertainty of the pandemic prompted some to delay regular check-ups at their doctor’s office, which may have meant forgoing the early detection of certain diseases that worsen the longer they linger.
On Nov. 4, the NAACP of New Bedford and the AdMeTech Foundation co-hosted an online educational event regarding prostate cancer, the pandemic and the importance of regular health exams. The AdMeTech Foundation is a Boston-based nonprofit focused on improving early detection and diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Many of the guest speakers, which included local health care experts, indicated that access to primary care became even more of a burden during the height of the pandemic. As case counts surged, people were less likely to leave lockdown to visit their primary care physician. Some were unable to successfully book an appointment or travel to a health care facility.
National surveys indicate that around twenty percent of adults were either unable to receive care or delayed care during the pandemic.
Dr. Shabana Naz, an infectious disease specialist with the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center who also works as a primary care physician, said that delay in care came with consequences.
“In my ten years of practice here, I don’t think I’ve seen as much of a cancer disease burden as I have seen in the last year because we did not have the same opportunity to connect with patients,” Naz said during the event. “People are presenting late in their disease.”
She said preventative care was placed on the backburner as society focused on the pandemic, meaning patients were missing regular cancer screenings or ongoing treatment for chronic diseases, like diabetes or hypertension.
When it comes to prostate cancer, delaying care is especially dangerous because it can lead to a reduced quality of life or loss of life.
“Ongoing care is particular important for Black and Hispanic men, who are two-and-a-half times more likely to die compared to white men,” said Dr. Faina Shtern, president and CEO of the AdMeTech Foundation. “Early detection saves lives and eliminates health disparities.”
Risk factors for prostate cancer include age, ethnicity and family history. The chance for prostate cancer increases after age 50; the majority of those diagnosed are over age 65, according to the American Cancer Society.
About one in nine men will develop prostate cancer across their lifetimes. It is the second most common cause of cancer death (behind lung cancer) in men. The overwhelming majority of cases, however, will be diagnosed in the early stages. If the cancer moves beyond the prostate, the five-year survival rate is around 30 percent.
“Men are taken aback by how vulnerable they may be for prostate cancer,” Dr. Robert Caldas, a family physician with Hawthorn Medical Associates. “It’s never been spoken about. Even family members who might have had it don’t discuss it.”
When it comes to testing, your doctor may recommend a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which is a blood test, or a digital rectal exam. Depending on the results of these tests, patients may need an imaging test of the prostate gland or a biopsy.
The panelists agreed: no matter which diagnosis method may be the right fit for you, a major hurdle in treatment is awareness. They said many men may not know their own family health histories or know when to ask about testing.
“It’s important that you’re aware of the need to screen. I’d like you to be your own advocate and ask about the PSA test,” said Dr. Ryan Frankel, Urologist and Prostate Cancer Expert at Greater Boston Urology, North Easton and Good Samaritan Medical Center. “Prostate cancer is the second leading cancer death among men. This is a test that can save lives.”
Watch the entire presentation on AdMeTech’s YouTube channel by clicking here.
For more events, visit the NAACP of New Bedford on Facebook at: facebook.com/naacpnewbedford.