Becoming Pro-Active with Prostate Cancer

Milwaukee resident Unis Matthews maintains a positive attitude after battling both prostate and breast cancers.

Milwaukee resident Unis Matthews maintains a positive attitude after battling both prostate and breast cancers.

Unis Matthews is no stranger to cancer. As an advocate, a fighter and a survivor, he knows all about breast cancer and prostate cancer because he lived through them both.

“I wasn’t afraid to talk to people and I wasn’t afraid to tell them what was going on because that’s the thing to do,” Matthews says. “Spreading it around, you get feedback with what you can do, who you can follow up with and the support. The support is the main thing you can do to help yourself.”

Matthews has become comfortable talking about his health problems with friends and family. He felt he needed the thoughts and prayers of people in his community to help heal him.

“People I don’t even know were praying for me,” Matthews says. “It makes you feel very important, and it helps you to stay on the positive side of getting yourself healed.”

But it’s not just the breast cancer and prostate cancer combination that sets Matthews apart from other men. His very willingness to talk about it makes him unique.

“Prostate cancer is to men as breast cancer is to women, but men are very different than women. They go very public,” says Dan Zenka, vice president of communications for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. “Men tend to shut down. Many times, they won’t even discuss much with their families, and it’s partly because it’s a disease below the belt.”

Those cultural cues affect all aspects of cancer care, beginning with the point of detection.

“I think to a certain extent men tend to be less proactive about their health,” says Dr. David Jarrard, a urologic surgeon specializing in prostate cancer at the UW Hospital. “Especially in the middle years, men tend to go years without a checkup while with women, they go for their yearly gynecological exam.”

How common is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is even more common in men than breast cancer is in women. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States, affecting one out of every six men.

This means in 2009, a staggering 192,000 men will be diagnosed with the disease and more than 27,000 will die from it. So why don’t men seem more concerned about prostate cancer?

According to Dr. Carl Olson, chairman of the radiation oncology department at Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee, media coverage may be to blame for this lack of awareness.

“We’ve all seen the significant importance of breast cancer specifically,” Olson says. “Breast cancer is lucky [it has] received treatment. Male cancers haven’t been as strongly investigated for whatever reason.”

Douglas McNeel, associate professor at the UW Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center, agrees. He believes prostate cancer receives less funding than breast cancer. McNeel admits Midwestern men are not as aware of the disease and it is an issue that needs work.

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