UBC researchers seek men who have sex with men for prostate cancer study

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In November, the B.C. Gay Men's Health Summit drew attention to how attention and funding towards HIV and AIDS within the gay male community has resulted in other areas of gay male health being neglected.

A current UBC study is examining one particular area of male health that is lacking in research.

The study, being conducted by UBC and the B.C. Cancer Agency with the help of Health Initiative for Men and Community-Based Research Centre (which held the B.C. Gay Men's Health Summit), will address the subject of how prostate cancer treatment affects men who have sex with men (or MSM, which includes any man who has sex with same-sex partners, such as gay, bisexual, bicurious, queer, or straight men).

UBC research assistant Ariel Handy told the Georgia Straight by phone that they're looking for MSM to participate in this study and that they're trying to gather as much information as possible on this topic.

"There is not much literature on the effects of prostate cancer treatment on men who have sex with men," she said. "There is a good amount of knowledge on how different treatments affect erectile functioning when you're talking about strength of an erection for vaginal penetration and how these things could psychologically affect straight men but there's not been much looked into on the differences that men who have sex with men might have with these so this really is to sort of fill a deficit in knowledge."

Prostate cancer researcher and the study's co-investigator Dr. Richard Wassersug explained by phone that the principal investigator and radiation oncologist Dr. Tsz Kin (Bernard) Lee is an out gay doctor who initiated the study.

"He recognized as such, in terms of his position as a physician and as a gay male, that the side effects of the various treatments for prostate cancer…affects sexual function but the literature was not sensitive to…the gay population."

He explained that part of the reason that this area has not been researched until now is because the development of the prostate-specific antigen test resulted in the average age of diagnosis for prostate cancer dropping by a decade only within the past 15 years. Accordingly, the sex lives of these younger patients have become a more prevalent concern.

According to Dr. Wassersug (whose previous study comparing differences between heterosexual and non-heterosexual prostate cancer patients was published in the journal Urology last year), up to 90 percent of men will experience erectile dysfunction after a prostate is surgically removed. He added that radiation treatment also carries a risk of damaging the rectum, which may limit the ability to be a receptive sexual partner in anal sex.

He added that many doctors have not traditionally incorporated discussions of their patients' sex lives and their treatment.

"We don't have survey instruments, we don't have a standard protocol, for doctors to even ask their patients, 'Well, what are your sexual practices?' because it's become clear to all of us who are involved who are involved in this project…the need for those questions to be asked so that the physician will be able to incorporate the answers into what advice they might give the patient in terms of treatment," he said.

Handy said that they're looking for about 20 men who will be asked questions about their diagnosis and choice of treatment, relationships, and sexual functioning and satisfaction before and after treatment.

Anyone interested in participating in the study or seeking more information can contact Handy by email or call her at 604-875-4111 (ext. 63994). 

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Darryl Mitteldorf, LCSW
As the Director of the USA based national Gay men's cancer survivor support and advocacy nonprofit organization, Malecare ( http://malecare.org ), I applaud this research project and encourage men to participate. While the field of gay psycho-oncology is certainly growing, since Malecare first developed the notion in 1997, we see a need for more basic investigaAtion, as Dr.s Wassersug and Lee propose.
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