It’s the diagnosis no man wants to hear but unfortunately in Australia, one out of every seven men will be told they’re living with prostate cancer throughout their lives. With 21,000 men set to be diagnosed by the end of the year, many men are left confused and scared after this devastating cancer is found.
While some patients are told they have aggressive forms of prostate cancer and require immediate treatment and surgery, others with low-risks forms of cancer are told not to worry.
It can be a daunting time for men and their partners and, particularly for those who don’t live in major cities where surgeons, doctors and health professionals are readily available, getting answers and assistance can be difficult.
Thankfully, there are an array of Telehealth services available which provide men diagnosed with prostate cancer with the relevant tools to navigate their cancer journey. The best part is that communication is typically electronic, reducing the pressure on men who live in country or rural areas.
Speaking to Starts at 60, Dave Hughes – Care Coordinator for Telehealth service TrueNTH – explained how the Movember Foundation service is changing lives of men with prostate cancer all over the country.
“We created this project whereby we have a Telehealth system, which means we can ring men or we can use other electronic forms,” he said. “We can use video conferencing, texts, Skype, and we can get to men all around Australia and potentially around the world, no matter where they live.”
While some may be sceptical that they wouldn’t receive the same level of information or care electronically, Hughes said it wasn’t the case. In fact, Telehealth services such as TrueNTH, which is a free service which is funded by the Movember foundation, have teams of professionals that know exactly what they’re dealing with and how to help patients.
“Our team is made up of people that really know what they’re talking about and really have the capacity to support the major needs of any man diagnosed with prostate cancer – whether it be immediate diagnosis, pre-therapy, post-therapy, all the way through to palliative care,” he said.
Patients will typically still be required to touch base in person with a specialist, GP, urologist or medical oncologist, as these are the health professionals most prostate cancer patients deal with as part of their treatment and recovery. The job of the Telehealth service is to liaise with these medical professionals to provide ongoing support to patients when they can’t physically see them.
“We treat every single bloke who’s unique and individual,” Hughes said. “We don’t treat men as a group or statistic, so every single guy would be different.”
Typically, he will spend one or two hours with patients initially to go through what cancer diagnosis means for a man. Whether it’s assessing their psychological needs or explaining terminology, these services understand it is stressful when men find out they’ve got prostate cancer. Partners are also involved, given some side effects and implications such as lack of sexual function and bladder leakage can also affect them.
For Hughes, while he makes an effort to meet with patients in person if they’re in the area, most of the contact through Telehealth services will happen over the phone. In other cases, emails and text messages can also be used to communicate.
Where possible, patients are always encouraged to meet with specialists, prostate cancer nurses and other health professionals in person, but when that’s not possible, it’s best for contacts to touch base with their GP and be referred to services such as TrueNTH.
“Especially rural and remote people, there’s no other way to do it,” Hughes said. “These people might have to travel five or six hours just to get to a specialist.”
GPs can typically refer a patient to a service, however, patients can also refer themselves. In addition to the support, these services also provide proper information to men and their families, something Hughes said was extremely important.
“It’s incredibly important when you have something as threatening or significant as cancer that you go to an expert who’s independent and who knows exactly what your needs are to get the correct information, so you make the right choices,” he said. “We stick with guys forever, we don’t leave them.”