The cost of living is hitting men where it hurts as those diagnosed with prostate cancer who don't have private health insurance have limited treatment options.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia says the widening gap in prostate cancer treatments offered by public and private health services is putting men without health insurance at an increased risk of early death.
Ken Bezant says his cancer diagnosis came as a shock but it was what came after that left him feeling like he'd lost his manhood.
The private patient costs for a robotic prostatectomy, a standard surgical procedure for removal of the prostate, range between $12,000 to $30,000 nationally and are not offered routinely by public health services, despite increasing demand for the procedure.
And despite a high number of patients experiencing loss of sexual function and bladder control, options for corrective surgery in the public health system are limited, forcing men to pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs to try to regain basic function and restore quality of life.
Mr Bezant says he underwent a penile implant as an "option of last resort" which would have set him back $23,000 had it not been for his private health fund.
He is calling on the federal government to make such surgeries available through the public health system.
"Sexual function issues affect your mental health and quality of life so much, yet the public system doesn't do the surgeries to fix it. You have to pay to go private or not have it at all," he said.
"The irony is, the government ends up paying for these ongoing mental health issues, so not offering the surgery is not really a saving."
Mr Bezant, who was 59 when he was diagnosed, says he and his wife of 47 years have their spontaneity back and he's now helping others, through a survivor support group.
Foundation chief of mission Jeff Dunn AO said more needed to be done to give patients equal access to treatment and care.
"Despite our success at lifting five-year survival rates for prostate cancer from 60 percent to 95 per cent over the past 40 years, incidence and mortality is still influenced by where we live, what we earn, and how our cultural and ethnic status affects our chances of preventing, detecting, and effectively treating the disease," Professor Dunn said.
"The fact is that while we have among the highest survival rates in the world, survival and survivorship outcomes are not enjoyed by all Australians.
"The gap in prostate cancer mortality rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is widening."
Professor Dunn said people living in poorer areas and/or regional and rural communities were still disproportionately disadvantaged by the burden of death and disease cancer imposes.
"It is a tragic fact that regional Australians diagnosed with prostate cancer have, on average, a 24 per cent higher risk of death within five years compared to those in cities."
"Likewise, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are nearly 50 per cent more likely to die of their disease than non-Indigenous men."
Describing the statistics as "scary", Professor Dunn said there was a need to support marginalised communities with better access to high-quality health services.
"It's an unacceptable fact that we have a health system that simply locks some people out.
"Poorer cancer outcomes are also correlated with health workforce shortages in outlying regions, as well as lack of access to the latest imaging techniques that are required to monitor prostate cancer so that it can be treated quickly if it spreads.
"Likewise, Australian men living in remote areas are less likely to uptake cancer testing compared to those in cities, which could be contributing to late diagnosis and early death.
He that overall, gaps still existed for many marginalised groups, including those from non-English speaking backgrounds and older Australians.
Also affected are people with mental illness, who often face the additional challenges and distress of social isolation, he said.
"Many men will develop anxiety or depression as a result of their prostate cancer treatment and its side-effects, contributing to a 70 per cent increased risk of suicide among men living with the disease", he said.
Prostate cancer is Australia's most common cancer diagnosed in Australia and is also now the nation's most costly single disease to treat.
The foundation offers information booklets in eight different languages and has customised resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Phone 1800 220 099 or click here for more information.
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