Health awareness

Prostate cancer: stigma, early screening and support

A prostate cancer survivor and a caregiver and advocate want to inspire more people to talk about the disease

April 26, 2024

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Even after losing his father and grandfather to prostate cancer, Henry H. Washington III, Ph.D., was still shocked by his prostate cancer diagnosis after a routine screening. A retired Army Major and longtime athlete, Washington saw himself as the picture of health.

“After fighting for my country in the military and then to find out I have prostate cancer – how do I deal with that? It was a lot of emotions. I think as men we aren’t allowed to have emotions. We are taught that we need to be strong.”

  • Henry H. Washington III

Screening for prostate cancer is key in early detection

After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer for men in the U.S. Anyone who was born with a prostate can develop it. About 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed during their lifetime, and Black men are more likely to develop prostate cancer.

 In its early stages, prostate cancer can be difficult to identify because there are usually no symptoms.

Routine screening for those who are at risk can help detect prostate cancer early before it has spread. The greatest risk factor is age. Men over the age of 65 have the highest risk. Additional risk factors include inherited gene mutations and a family history of certain cancers.

Speaking out and supporting loved ones with prostate cancer

Courtney Bugler, president and CEO of ZERO Prostate Cancer who herself is a cancer survivor, said she was inspired to take on this role to support her father, who is living with the disease.

“There’s a stigma around prostate cancer and watching my dad made me want to shine a light on something that, quite honestly, I don’t think gets enough attention. After almost 20 years of him supporting me after my own diagnosis, it’s time for me to be there for him.”

  • Courtney Bugler
    CEO of ZERO Prostate Cancer

The stigma associated with prostate cancer can be attributed in part to the nature of the disease and its treatment disrupting normal urinary, bowel and sexual function, all of which can impact a patient’s body image and self-esteem. The thought of impaired sexual health, in particular, may even lead men to avoid screening for prostate cancer altogether.

Statistics show there’s still unease around prostate cancer diagnosis

A 2022 study of 200 metastatic prostate cancer patients, conducted by Merck and Cerner Enviza, found:

  • 58% of patients agree there’s a stigma around prostate cancer.
  • 39% didn’t share their feelings about having prostate cancer with loved ones because they felt they needed to “stay strong.”
  • More than a third felt uncomfortable, embarrassed or vulnerable talking to their loved ones (37%) or their doctor (38%) about emotional challenges.

Now cancer-free for a decade, Washington said he sees helping others as his purpose. He faces the potential unease head-on by educating others about prostate cancer, encouraging men to get checked early and working with men who have been diagnosed.

“Survivorship is not a linear experience; sometimes it’s two steps forward, five steps back,” said Washington. “The support I received from my friends, my support groups, my mother and my family is what gave me strength to educate others about prostate cancer.”

"Finding support and having people beside you who know what you're going through is what will help get you through.”

For more information about prostate cancer and access to helpful resources visit ZERO Prostate Cancer.