MenTal(k) Health is a space designed for men, from all walks of life, to speak about their specific interactions with health and well-being.
This week’s MenTal(k) Health is looking at men and cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men across the UK, with 1 in 8 men being diagnosed with cancer in their lives with 1 in 4 Black men are more likely to get prostate cancer in their lives.
But there are other forms of cancer that affect men. One that is rarer and not as well known is penile cancer.
Jeff Addison, 48, a finance director at pub retailer, Greene King, who was diagnosed with the cancer in September 2017 at just 46-years-old.
He underwent surgery to remove the initial lump in October, but it returned in February 2018 and resulted in further surgery to remove the head of his penis.
Before his diagnosis, Jeff was very active. He was a rugby coach and led a very healthy lifestyle.
I’m a positive person but it was emotionally draining to be told it had returned.
The cancer was aggressive and led to invasive surgery to remove the head of his penis.
The impending surgery caused psychological stress for Jeff, as it brought fears of loss of the penis, his virility and more general surgical anxieties.
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘To be honest I wasn’t even aware you could get penile cancer. My wife was in floods of tears, and the consultant was even welling up.
‘I’m a positive person but it was emotionally draining to be told it had returned three months after my initial surgery, and I would then have to have the head of my penis removed.
‘I had a catheter while I was in hospital and kept thinking, this only happens to old people, not to a man in his 40s.’
Like most men, for Jeff the penis symbolised his masculinity and sexuality – so the thought of having to cut off the head of the penis was daunting.
He said: ‘Having a penis is a physical point of difference between men and women, and having one is something that I took for granted as part of defining my sexuality.
‘In order to deal with the psychological impact of having a partial penectomy, I considered my options, which at the time were very limited to: keep the head of my penis and accept that the cancer will spread to other parts of my body or remove the cancer affected part of my body and embrace the opportunity to carry on in life, cancer free and accept that life would be different in some ways.
‘I don’t believe that this is a choice that any man wants to make in their lifetime, but if you get the choice, my view is make the best choice and make the best of it.’
Signs and Symptoms of Penis Cancer
- a thickening or change in colour of the skin
- a flat growth or sore on the penis
- discharge or bleeding from the growth or sore.
If you experience any of these symptoms or have any concerns, please see your doctor straight away as cancer of the penis is easier to treat if it is diagnosed early.
Because of the rare and uncommon nature of the cancer, the disease is not as well understood as some other cancers.
According to Cancer Research UK, incidence of penile cancer around 9 in 10 (89%) of men diagnosed with penile cancer in England survive their disease for one year or more, with mortality rates for penile cancer in the UK are highest in males aged 90 plus.
Cancer sometimes can’t be explained but there are certain risk factors that might see the development of the cancer.
One being the human papilloma virus (HPV) is a common virus that many sexually active people might have been exposed to, but some types of the virus increase the risk of certain cancers.
Most people with HPV don’t develop cancer, but people who have cancer of the penis often have the infection.
Also, having a tight foreskin, that does not pull back easily (scientifically known as phimosis), is more common in men who have penile cancer.
It is less common in men who are circumcised, but the reason for this is not clear.
Smoking also increases the risk of penis cancer, as well as some skin conditions if they are left untreated.
Jeff told Metro.co.uk: ‘I wish I knew more about cancer in general before I got my diagnosis.
‘I was aware of it, but I never really engaged in truly understanding how to check my body and I was never one for going to the doctor if I had an ailment that didn’t stop me from functioning.
‘After the diagnosis, I wanted to take control of the situation and put a significant amount of time into finding out about survival rates, the quality of life after cancer and if other people in the world were going through this, as I felt that they would be able to connect with me and understand the emotional side of the challenge.
‘I wish I had known someone else who has gone through this and that they could have been there to answer my questions and re-assure me. I am often referred to as a trail blazer, which isn’t something that I wanted.’
His support networks revolved around his wife and children who were by his side throughout his diagnosis and treatment.
He added: ‘My support network was a real mix of people, my wife and children were the hub of my network, we went through the journey together and talked about it, the nurses and surgeons were also really important.
‘I can’t praise my surgeon and the nurses enough, they were fantastic, we have laughed, we have cried and we have seen the cancer off together.’
Macmillan Cancer Cancer Support put on a Men and Cancer Campaign from 10-16 June in order to raise awareness of men suffering with cancer.
Jeff is cycling 420 miles in 4 days in September and working to raise at least £20,000 for people battling cancer.
In the UK, around 500 men are diagnosed with cancer every day, yet men often find it difficult to talk about cancer, let alone ask for support. Charities like Macmillan support concerned individuals over the phone, online or in person, with everything from emotional to money worries.
What is MenTal(k) Health?
MenTal(k) Health is a weekly series that speaks to men who have a lot to say on a range of health issues from mental and physical health to fitness, sexual health and emotional intelligence.
If you know someone who might be great to speak to, please email: [email protected] or connect on twitter @AlexReads__.
Last week’s MenTal(k) Health with actor Jeremy Irvine about his experience with diabetes.
Keep a look out for next week’s feature of MenTal(k) Health.
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