A "poor taste" joke about prostate cancer examinations has put the uncomfortable subject in the spotlight but a South Coast GP is urging men not to shy away from the lifesaving procedures.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard's partner Tim Mathieson apologised yesterday for making a joke about prostate cancer and Asian women, admitting it was in poor taste.
Mr Mathieson made the joke on Monday night to members of the West Indian cricket team at a reception at The Lodge in Canberra, as Ms Gillard stood behind him.
"We can get a blood test for it but the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on your prostate so make sure you go and do that, and perhaps look for a small Asian female doctor is probably the best way," he said.
Mr Mathieson said yesterday his comments, which drew laughter, were aimed at raising awareness about prostate cancer and the need for men to get regular checks.
"It was meant as a joke and on reflection I accept it was in poor taste," he said.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local board director Dr Declan Mulvaney said there was some debate about the "right thing to do" regarding appropriate and effective testing.
"A digital rectal examination is a simple test which takes a brief 30 seconds or so, and is mildly discomforting but not painful," Dr Mulvaney said.
"In addition, a blood sample can be ordered, both tests together can help identify who may need further investigation.
"A combination of both together is thought to be the best way to move forward. In general, if a man is concerned he should consult his GP in the first instance who can discuss appropriate ways of investigating."
Dr Mulvaney said recent studies suggested men from 40 years of age, with no family history, should consider getting tested.
"They may not need testing again for five years - some men require a test every year."
Dr Mulvaney said the procedure was "no big drama" and GPs were happy to perform it and answer any questions.
"People with symptoms will go and get answers, it's the asymptomatic men we are trying to reach."