Speaking out about a silent killer

With a campaign starting next week to raise awareness of prostate cancer, Health Correspondent MARK NICHOLLS speaks to a woman who lost her 46-year-old husband to the disease.

With a campaign starting next week to raise awareness of prostate cancer, Health Correspondent MARK NICHOLLS speaks to a woman who lost her 46-year-old husband to the disease.

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For James Harber, today is going to be more difficult than usual. It's his 17th birthday, the day he becomes old enough to drive - the day most teenagers cannot wait for.

But for James, it his first birthday since his dad died from prostate cancer. Chris Harber, who ran a car sales business, was a devoted dad who loved spending time with sons James and Jordan, 13, sharing their hobby of kart racing and taking them to the 24-hour motor race at Le Mans.

His widow Anne, 44, said: “It is now hitting home with the 'firsts' starting to come round - the first car, the first birthday. The boys miss him greatly. He did everything with them, he was a really hands on dad.”

What has been particularly hard for the family to come to terms with is that Mr Harber died from a condition often mistakenly thought of as an “old man's disease.” Mrs Harber says: “Prostate cancer is something that happens to young families too.”

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It is this that has prompted her to help raise the profile of the disease ahead of Prostate Cancer Awareness Week, which starts on Monday.

The Prostate Cancer Charity, the group behind the campaign, says that every year 32,000 men are diagnosed with a disease that results in 10,000 deaths annually.

Mrs Harber, of Thorpe End near Norwich, would like to see wider availability of appropriate screening for prostate cancer.

Although the PSA (prostate specific antigen) test is used, this does not signal the presence of the cancer - it is a blood test that can indicate a problem with the prostate.

Now the Prostate Cancer Charity is pressing for a specific test to be developed. Mrs Harber says: “I just feel that if four or five years ago there was general testing for men of 40 years-plus, Chris might have been able to have treatment earlier and would have had a better chance of survival.

“While PSA is not a conclusive test, I do believe men should have the choice to have it. I do not want this to happen to another family because it is devastating.”

Mr Harber was diagnosed in February 2005 after going to the doctors because he was making so many trips to the toilet.

Mrs Harber said: “He had an examination and they said that his prostate had enlarged and he was sent for a PSA test.

“For the whole two years from that diagnosis, our lives changed because the treatment alters the way you live your life as a couple. It affects family life. Chris was really positive all the way through, but he knew what could happen.”

Hormone therapy did not work and the cancer spread to Mr Harber's bones as his condition deteriorated.

“He pulled himself round really brilliantly for Christmas,” said Mrs Harber. “He was determined we were going to have a good Christmas and we did, but it was almost like a switch flicked over on Boxing Day and he started to deteriorate really badly.”

He died in hospital on February 17, in the month after his 46th birthday.

Mrs Harber, who works in the advertising department for EDP publisher Archant in Norwich, said: “I want people to realise that prostate cancer kills more than one man every hour. People say you are more likely to die with it and than of it but I would like to see that statement wiped off the face of the earth. It is really devastating when your husband has prostate cancer. ”

Prostate Cancer Charity chief executive John Neate said: “All men need to know about prostate cancer and take a greater interest in their general health. The Prostate Cancer Charity is pressing for the development of a reliable test, capable of distinguishing between aggressive and slow-growing forms of prostate cancer, which can be used for a national screening programme able.

“In the meantime, we believe that all men over 45 need to know that the PSA test is available and that they can seek the test from their GP. They should then expect to be given good, balanced information, which they can use in making their own informed choice about whether to have the test.”

ABOUT PROSTATE CANCER

Prostate cancer is often known as the silent killer, because not all men get symptoms and not all men have the same symptoms. Most common are problems with urinating, but symptoms can include lower back, hip or thigh pain or impotence.

The major risk factors for prostate cancer are increasing age, especially past 50; a family history of the disease; a high fat, refined “westernised” diet; being of African or African Caribbean origin.

Most men diagnosed with prostate cancer are over 50. Men from the age of about 40 can be affected, but this is less common. You are two-and-a-half times more likely to get prostate cancer if your father, brother or son has been diagnosed.

Treatment can range from active monitoring, which involves closely observing the cancer and only treating it if required, to removal of the prostate gland. Other treatments include radiotherapy, brachytherapy where radioactive “seeds” are implanted in the prostate. Cryosurgery is a more unusual technique, which involves the freezing the prostate in order to destroy the gland or hormone therapy.

Various events are being held for the awareness week including information points at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and North Brink Practice, Wisbech;

For further information call the Prostate Cancer Charity's free helpline 0800 074 8383, open 10am-4pm Monday to Friday and also 7-9pm on Wednesdays or visit www.prostate-cancer.org.uk