Warning against panic prostate testing after Sam Newman surgery

Wednesday 12 March, 2008

In the wake of publicity surrounding coverage of Sam Newman's prostate cancer surgery on Channel Nine's 60 Minutes, The Cancer Council Victoria is appealing to men to talk to their doctor before having a prostate cancer test.

‘The messages about prostate cancer are often misunderstood,' said director of The Cancer Council Victoria, Professor David Hill.

‘The Cancer Council is one of many peak health organisations* which do not recommend that all men be screened for prostate cancer from any particular age.  Instead, we encourage men concerned about prostate cancer speak to their doctor, in order to make an informed decision about whether testing is right for them.

‘This is because there is currently no reliable test to differentiate between prostate cancers that are slow-growing and unlikely to cause harm, and those that are aggressive and require treatment.  Because the side effects of prostate cancer testing and treatment are often very serious, and can lead to urinary incontinence and impotence, treating those cancers which are unlikely to affect life expectancy or quality of life, can do more harm than good.

‘What is urgently needed is a diagnostic test to identify prostate cancers that will become widespread and aggressive. Until such a test is available, men need to be fully aware of the potential risks and benefits of prostate cancer testing and should initiate these discussions with their doctor so they can make an informed decision about what's right for them,' said Professor Hill.

‘Whenever a well-known person has a cancer experience, it generates a great deal of publicity. While this provides the opportunity to raise awareness of cancer, it is very important when it comes to prostate cancer that men understand the implications of testing for the disease, ‘ said Professor Hill.

The biggest risk factor for prostate cancer is age and the majority of new cases occur in men over 65.  Prostate cancer is very rare in men younger than 45. Men who have a close relative with prostate cancer, particularly if they were diagnosed under the age of 50, are at increased risk and therefore screening discussions with their doctor should take into account family history, as well as age and quality of life.

View the Cancer Council's position statement

*Royal Australian College of General Practice.

World Health Organisation.

Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand.


In 2005 in Victoria:

  • Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Victorian men, and is the second-leading cause of cancer-related death, after lung cancer.
  • 3,970 Victorian men were diagnosed with prostate cancer
  • 737 Victorian men died from prostate cancer
  • 4 men aged 62 (Sam Newman's age) died from prostate cancer
  • 113 men aged 62 (Sam Newman's age) were diagnosed with prostate cancer
  • Only 9 per cent of 62 year old men with prostate cancer died within five years of their diagnosis (and these include men who died of other causes than pc)
  • Of the 823 men aged 62 years diagnosed with prostate cancer in the last 10 years (1986-2005) 717 (87 per cent) were still alive (at the end of 2005)
  • Findings from The Cancer Council Victoria's Health 2020, a 20-year study of 41,000 Victorians, has found a waist measurement of over 100cm for men, and over 85cm for women, can significantly increase the risk of cancer, including breast, bowel and aggressive prostate cancers.

Often comparisons are made between rates of breast and prostate cancer:

  • Less than 1 per cent of men who died from prostate cancer were younger than 55, compared with 25 per cent of women who died from breast cancer.
  • In 2005, the number of years of potential life lost (YPLL) for breast cancer was 7,829, and for prostate cancer, 1,255