American Cancer Society: Ignorance is Bliss When it Comes to Prostate Cancer
By Rick Lyke
The American Cancer Society is telling men to pull up their pants, roll down their sleeves and not to worry about that prostate cancer thing.
In a guidance issued on Wednesday, the group – which carries a huge amount of weight with physicians and patients – basically said American men are better off not knowing if they have prostate cancer. Citing difficulties in determining who should be treated when cancer is found, the American Cancer Society (ACS) has decided it is better for some men to die from prostate cancer than for others to have their anxiety levels go up because they receive an inflated prostate specific antigen (PSA) test result due to prostatitis or some other medical condition.
The ACS has long lagged behind a number of prostate cancer organizations that advocate for earlier testing as a key to early detection. When prostate cancer is detected in the early stages, treatment has a far greater chance for success. Most groups focused on fighting prostate cancer tell men to get tested for prostate cancer for the first time at age 40. For people with a family history of prostate cancer or in a high risk group, such as African American men, the suggestion is that testing should start at 35 years old.
Few men really welcome the prospect of a digital rectal exam. So when the ACS says wait until you are 50 years old (45 for African Americans and 40 for men with multiple family members that have had the disease before 65 years old), that’s what most men will gladly do. When they say that the tests are not always perfect, that sends a “why bother” message to men. More troubling is the confusing recommendations the ACS provides about the PSA blood test. The PSA test started being used widely in the 1990s. The early warning the test provides, along with campaigns aimed at getting men to have regular exams, has helped to cut annual prostate cancer deaths in the United States by approximately 40 percent. Even with these cold, hard facts the ACS wants us to believe getting tested should be delayed and perhaps put off all together.
What is disturbing about the ACS announcement is that it comes on the eve of the first U.S. Congressional hearing on prostate cancer in 11 years. Approximately 4,000 men a week in the United States hear the words “you have prostate cancer.” Nearly 28,000 men a year are killed by the disease in this country. Clearly, more research is needed to find the next generation PSA test or some other method that could detect the disease and give doctors better information about the aggressiveness of the cancer. Instead of calling on Congress to increase funding to fight prostate cancer, the ACS has decided to make a public stand just prior to the hearing that suggests all of the concern about prostate cancer is over blown. After all, they remind men in the new guidelines, prostate cancer can be slow moving. That’s clearly code for “don’t worry about it.”
Try telling that to the men with advanced stages of the disease or the loved ones of men who passed away from prostate cancer because symptoms did not develop until after the disease had progressed too far for successful treatment. If I had followed the ACS advice, instead of getting tested at 47 years old, my prostate cancer would still be growing in my body and likely be on its way to killing me.
Prostate cancer in the U.S. has the same social standing as breast cancer did 30 years ago. Women decided it was time to take a stand. It’s time for men to tell the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Congress to stop dragging their heels and start getting serious about fighting prostate cancer.
Rick Lyke is a prostate cancer survivor. After successful surgery in April 2008, he founded Pints for Prostates (www.pintsforprostates.org), a campaign that uses the universal language of beer to reach men with an important health message. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Us TOO International Prostate Education and Support Network (www.ustoo.org).