My husband Bruce died from prostate cancer nearly four years ago, aged 66.
He was one of 700 New Zealanders who die each year from the disease, but his death, like many others, could have been prevented.
It prompted my petition calling for an early detection programme, as we already have for bowel, breast and cervical cancer.
Politicians from most political parties were present at the petition’s handover on July 27, and Gerry Brownlee formally presented it to Parliament. We gathered more than 30,000 signatures. I was grateful the politicians came out to receive the petition. But my challenge to each political party is to make a public commitment prior to the election that they will take the first steps to implement an early detection programme.
New Zealanders need to know not only those who say they support men’s health, but also those who will actually commit to trying to save lives.
Too many men are dying early unnecessarily, and it needs to stop.
Bruce, a registered nurse like me, had regular medical check-ups with his GP which included prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests. These showed that his levels were rising – a key warning sign – but by the time he was referred to a specialist his cancer had metastasised and could not be treated.
My main concern is that there is no centralised population-based programme for diagnosis and treatment for men who have an elevated PSA test.
More than 4000 men are diagnosed annually – a number which is expected to rise each year – but clinicians believe there are many more whose cancer goes undetected.
Current testing is unfunded, disorganised and inequitable, allowing too many men to die.
There’s no centralised national screening programme and things need to change to provide better healthcare for New Zealand men.
Significant advances in technology and improved diagnostic methods mean previous risks from prostate treatment have been reduced, and the latest research clearly shows that a comprehensive early-detection programme holds the promise of halving mortality from the disease.
A national early-detection scheme can be leveraged off the existing infrastructure in place for breast, cervical and bowel screening programmes.
We’re asking the Government to implement a pilot scheme similar to the European Union’s, which would be a low-risk, sensible way to learn, and then scale-up from there.
Early detection of cancer reduces the number of people who die from it.
Whatever the circumstances, there are always better clinical outcomes the earlier the cancer is detected. Screening programmes work.
Every year, 3400 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 600 die. A comprehensive early detection programme was started in 2017.
For bowel (or colorectal) cancer, 3200 men and women are diagnosed, with 1200 deaths. A comprehensive early detection programme was started in 2017.
And for cervical cancer, 160 women are diagnosed, with about 50 deaths. A comprehensive early detection programme was started in 1991.
Because New Zealand values life so much, we also have a significant $61 million “Road to Zero” campaign under way seeking to eliminate road deaths. In 2022, 380 people died on New Zealand roads.
And of course, the Government took significant measures to prevent deaths from Covid-19 from January 2020 till now (2716 deaths), budgeting around $61 billion to prevent deaths and support the community.
Over the same period, around 2100 men died of prostate cancer. Many of these deaths were premature.
These examples show the Government accepts it is worthwhile to invest early to save lives – but not, apparently, when it comes to prostate cancer.
Our petition says New Zealand should invest in a centralised early detection programme so fewer men die unnecessarily.
We don’t think that’s too much to ask.
- Kristine Hayward is a registered nurse who has worked, along with her late husband Bruce, in Western Australia and Saudi Arabia.