Christmas is over. And a very different Christmas to boot. I am back in Norway, probably the most quiet and peaceful country in the world. Back to snow and ice and winter darkness. Back to a place where catastrophe and tragedy are strangers to most and familiar only to the few.
The contrast could not be greater to Bangladesh where I spent Christmas and New Year. Near the border to Myanmar, in the far east corner of Bangladesh, in one of the poorest parts of the country, a refugee camp has sprung up that is most likely the largest in the world. 850 000 people – men, women and children – live under conditions that can only be described as abominable. Some of them have lived there since 1994 when the first wave of refugees spilled across the border from Myanmar. The great majority has arrived since august when the violence in their home country forced them to pack up and flee. I had seen the footage of the exodus on TV before leaving and I had seen the photos of the refugee camp stretching for miles and miles across the once wooded hills of Chittagong province.
What is prostate cancer? First of all, it is a devastating disease which claims the life of many men, is difficult to treat and often impossible to stop. And on the other hand, prostate cancer is a condition which doesn’t cause symptoms, let alone kill patients and probably shouldn’t be called cancer at all. Confused? I hope you are. It is a good starting point for understanding prostate cancer.
First of all, why am I doing this? I am a urologist and I’ve been treating prostate cancer patients for over a decade. What sticks out among many lessons is that prostate cancer patients need to have a far more profound and in-depth understanding of the nature of their disease than other cancer patients. Why? We’ll get to that.
The author with the Norwegian Minister of Health, Bent Høie, visiting the Prostate Center at Vestfold Hospital Trust.
This understanding, however, is regularly sabotaged by media coverage of the disease which invariably focuses on new and usually fancy treatments rather than the bits of information which really matter to patients. So every time prostate cancer is on the news, I have to use a lot of extra time and effort with my patients to put things into perspective again. So this blog is my (probably forlorn) effort to convey the messages I think are important . I work at a non-academic central hospital where I’m exposed to the whole spectre of the disease. I cannot select the patients I want to see. I have to deal with all of them and with every aspect of the disease. I follow them from their first biopsy and in some instances to their death. It is both a privilege and a challenge.
So what makes prostate cancer special?