16 Sep 2021

Māori men urged to get tested for prostate cancer

8:58 am on 16 September 2021

Survivors and advocates are urging Māori to get their prostates checked to help turn around stats of more Māori dying from it.

Prostate cancer cells (illustration)

Photo: KKO / Science Photo Library

It is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and with Movember looming, how and why the numbers which show Māori men are twice as likely to die has been highlighted.

Prostate cancer survivor Te Iwi Mihaka, 73, was diagnosed in 2018 and went through radical radiotherapy treatment before getting the all-clear.

He started talking to people about his diagnosis and quickly realised how many people were avoiding talking about their health issues.

Mihaka hoped talking publicly and openly about his experience would prompt someone to get checked.

"People were telling me about how very few people actually talk about it and keep hiding from it. So I thought well, I'm here, I've learnt all these things, if I can help someone by sharing my story, I'll be happy to do it.

"Strange thing is, as soon as I was diagnosed, other people I knew around me suddenly said 'oh yeah been there done that' and 'I've got this and I've got that' and I've known these people for years and didn't know anything about their health.

"If we can get the word out to anyone else, even to one person, it's got to be a big help."

Auckland University of Technology associate professor Jacquie Kidd said Māori experienced race-based barriers in the health system.

"Most of it is because Māori men are diagnosed later, a whole range of reasons why that may be, it can start from not getting checked out as early as others might, through to systemic racism in the system that Māori men are met with race-based barriers on their journey."

Māori health and social service provider, Te Roopu Tautoko ki te Tonga general manager Christine Maxwell said once someone shared their story, more people followed.

"At Puketeraki Marae, one of our pakeke who [had] not long been diagnosed, started to be far more open about it, it's like he had been given permission to kōrero about what was going on for him."

She said some of the men who got diagnosed might get lost in the system.

"Sometimes they don't want to take things further, and if they don't talk about it, it will just go away, which is definitely doesn't.

"If someone knows something is not right, running to the wharepaku or just can tell something isn't feeling right, I hope they take that first step to get checked," Maxwell said.

Hei Āhuru Mōwai Māori cancer leadership co-chair Gary Thompson said: "It's important that tāne go and get checked if they have worrying symptoms, but more importantly we need a health system that is designed for us, [that is] culturally appropriate, friendly and accessible."

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