How Nurses Can Support Prostate Cancer Awareness

How Nurses Can Support Prostate Cancer Awareness

Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer in men (skin cancer is first), with the American Cancer Society estimating 161,360 new cases in 2017. A nurse’s role in prostate cancer awareness, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment is essential. As a professional nurse, a loved one, friend, or peer, nurses are on the front lines. They have the knowledge to help people identify what’s going on and have the resources and expertise to help them with treatment options and cutting-edge developments.

Leanne Schimke, MSN, FNP-C, CRNP, CUNP, works with urology patients in private practice and also with the Lancaster Rehab Hospital, and uses Prostate Cancer Awareness Month as a great opportunity to inform people about the disease. Of all things a patient might hear, getting any kind of life changing diagnosis like a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. A nurse can help educate patients and also offer support. “Nurses need to understand it will take multiple discussions for the patient to retain the information,” says Schimke. “It is helpful to include family members and correct any misconceptions.”

Involving the patient and their loved ones in discussions helps ensure that the information will be understood and retained. Nurses can help patients by answering their questions, of which they probably have many, and making sure they know where to find additional reliable and accurate information. Surfing the internet for information about prostate cancer treatment and prognosis isn’t going to give them the information a nurse can. “I help provide context on information they obtain through the Internet, friends and family,” says Schimke, “such as helping them understand if a certain treatment is an option for them, especially at later stages of disease progression.”

And she also acts as a reference. She encourages patients and their loved ones to write down questions and to understand that while they can’t delay treatment decisions, they should not rush into them. They can take the time to choose the best option for them, and they have time to get a second opinion. “I help them have realistic expectations – some assume when they are diagnosed with prostate cancer they are going to die soon when that is not the case – and in others I need to help them understand that their time is limited. I am a contact for patients to answer their questions and help with their symptoms.”

Schimke also helps dispel the many myths about prostate cancer. Prostate cancer may not be the leading cause of cancer deaths in men, but it is a killer. “I would like to discuss the statement ‘no one dies from prostate cancer,’” she says. “Approximately 14 to 20 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer will progress and die from advanced prostate cancer and not another cause. This statement trivializes prostate cancer and may lead men to make decisions that are not in their best interest.”

As a nurse working closely with patients, Schimke is able to work with men and notice signs of the disease’s progression. “When left untreated in an advanced stage, prostate cancer can spread to other bones in the body, which is difficult to treat and can impact survival,” she says. But there are new options for patients. “There are many treatments for prostate cancer depending on the stage of the prostate cancer when diagnosed,” Schimke says. “Our goal is to hopefully cure the cancer if at an early stage, but if it is metastatic at diagnosis, we want to maintain their quality of life and prolong their life through the various treatment options that are available.” One new option is a short-range radioactive treatment that kills cancer cells in men whose cancer has been resistant to medical and surgical treatments. They may have metastasized cancer that has spread but the spread is limited to the bones. Called Xofigo, the option can help extend the life of metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients.

What can men who do not have prostate cancer do to protect their health? Schimke says getting a PSA test is important. While some men think the test isn’t useful, Schimke says the test is a screening tool, not a diagnostic tool, that can spot potential red flags in men who are at high risk of prostate cancer or those in the 55- to 70-year-old age range who feel they would like the test and understand it. “PSA testing should be done in men with a high risk for prostate cancer, such as men who have a father or brother that has had prostate cancer,” she says. “The American Urological Association has guidelines for which men should be tested.” And while the test results might lead to a biopsy to rule out cancer, the biopsy isn’t always going to come back positive.

And if men do get a cancer diagnosis, each case is very different and finding a reliable and knowledgeable healthcare team with expert urology and oncology teams working together is essential. “Not all prostate cancer needs to be treated,” says Schimke. “Many men can be followed and treated only if their prostate cancer progresses.”

Use the Great American Smokeout to Quit the Habit!

Use the Great American Smokeout to Quit the Habit!

As the front line in health care, nurses know firsthand the dangers of smoking, but that doesn’t always mean they don’t do it.

In comparison to other bad health habits, the dangers of smoking are hard to ignore. According to the American Lung Association (ALA) smoking increases your risk of lung and other cancers, emphysema, chronic lung disease, and stroke, not to mention the general physical changes that result from inhaling the myriad dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke.

But many nurses, like other smokers, started smoking when they were young – often long before nursing school. Once hooked, they found it hard to quit. The ALA statistics say that 86% of adults who ever smoked reported starting before the age of 21. And with so many smokers relying on cigarettes as a way to cope with stress, entering the high-stress career of nursing can make quitting that much more daunting.

But with the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) annual Great American Smokeout just around the corner on November 21, this is a great time to quit. Luckily you don’t have to go it alone, and you shouldn’t feel bad if it takes several tries before you finally quit for good.

Currently, smokers who want to quit their nicotine addiction have several resources available. Of course you can go cold turkey if you think that method will work best for you, but there are other things you can try as well. Various combinations of hypnotherapy, smoking cessation classes, the patch, nicotine gum, prescription medication like Zyban or Chantix, or support groups can make your attempt more likely to succeed. Check out the ACS Guide to Quitting for ideas and tips on how to quit for good.

But for nurses, reducing stress is also an important part of successfully quitting. Recognize that this is a big challenge and treat yourself kindly. Don’t berate yourself if you cave in and have a cigarette after a particularly stressful day. Just be sure to start right over. Don’t let one cigarette turn into 10.

It helps to remember that smoking is both a physical and a mental addiction and requires a big overhaul of lots of familiar routines and habits, many of them comforting to you (even if they are unhealthy!). You will probably feel sad, frustrated, or angry that your old ways of relieving stress are gone and need to be replaced with unfamiliar habits. And all of this happens while you are trying to physically wean off cigarettes! No wonder why so many ex-smokers say it is the hardest thing they have ever done.

But you can do it. Nurses who smoke often struggle with cautioning their patients about smoking. How can they be a good health role model when they smoke? How can they tell their patients to do as they say, not as they do? But trying to quit, and then successfully quitting, also gives you a unique perspective to help your patients who are trying to do the same thing. You know how hard it is because you have been there.

Once you quit, or even if you struggle, your patients will relate to what you are going through and may even pay more attention to your advice. Share with them what worked and don’t be afraid to say it took five attempts before you got it right. Your struggle likely mirrors their own and they will appreciate your honesty. And once you have quit, you won’t want to let them down!