The New York Times has recently provided a significant amount of coverage about prostate cancer. I applaud them and thank them. It is time that a disease that strikes one in every six men gets this level of coverage.
One of the many excellent articles that recently appeared (January 17, 2008) entitled “$300 To Learn Risk of Prostate Cancer” prompted me to write a response to the paper. I hoped that they would publish it, but since they haven’t, I will publish it here.
I read Ms. Kolata’s article “$300 To Learn Risk of Cancer of the Prostate” (January 17, 2008, p. A1) with mixed emotions. I am excited by the potential such screening could provide men. I am also frustrated that her article cites physicians who believe that men are generally over screened and over treated – this, despite a drop in the death rate from prostate cancer, directly attributable to more comprehensive screening and improvements in treatments.
Yes, some men are over treated, but this is not an excuse not to screen. The standard nonsense comment quoted in the article, “most prostate cancers grow so slowly that they would have been harmless if left alone,” just perpetuates a disservice to men. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American men: almost 30,000 men will die this year of prostate cancer.
As our screening methods become more sophisticated, increasing numbers of men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Many of the men who are diagnosed in early stages have available the treatment modality called “Watchful Waiting”, more accurately described as “Active Monitoring.” They know they have prostate cancer, but instead of having an invasive treatment they, along with their doctors, elect to carefully monitor their disease. Then, if the cancer progresses, they can elect a more invasive treatment.
As a three-time cancer survivor (thyroid, kidney and recurrent prostate cancers), I am deeply grateful for aggressive cancer screening. I have been treated and I have suffered from many negative, life-changing side effects, but I am still alive. I remain a productive member of society and a loving husband and father. I am one of many such men, who have benefited from aggressive screening and treatment, and who are grateful that additional tools will be available to others.
Yes, the side effects can be awful and yes, some men are over treated. However, many of us are still alive thanks to screening. I do wish that parts of the medical community and the media would stop perpetuating the myth that prostate cancer is not dangerous. Just talk to the widows and children of the men who have died from prostate cancer.
Joel T Nowak MA, MSW
Cancer Survivor, Advocate and Educator
Director Advanced Prostate Cancer Programs, Malecare Inc.