BACKLASH Against Bob Dole's Viagra Spot
March 3, 1999. Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole's ad for Pfizer speaks for millions of men by bringing a few seconds of talk about ED (erectile dysfunction) into Americans' homes.
For men who, like Dole, become impotent because of prostate cancer treatment, whether surgery, external beam radiation, seeding, or hormonal therapy - Viagra doesn't always work. Many insurance companies won't pay for it. And there are murkier problems. Some men with a history of heart disease have died after taking Viagra.
Still, even with a blurb across his brow, Bob Dole encourages other men to deal with a tough problem. Why the backlash? If it came from people who wished Dole would speak out about prostate cancer more directly, and without commercial ties, it might be more understandable.
No. It's coming from people who seem to want to wipe prostate cancer right off our TV screens. What's wrong with men speaking openly about impotence and prostate cancer?
"Plenty," says ABC-TV medical columnist Nicholas Regush, taking a hard, scientific-sounding line. Dole, says Regush, "will help spread a misconception about prostate cancer."
Such as what? A pie-in-the-sky notion that this is not a problem cancer at all? That it is "only" an older men's disease, that men die with it not of it? Or that it's totally curable for any man who gets his prostate zapped or cut out - no worry about recurrence? No.
Dole, Regush fears, will lead men to believe they should get a PSA test. And to get a PSA test, says Regush, "may inevitably cause a lot of men to suffer needless pain and stress."
That's right - some men may have to get tested more than once to find out they don't have prostate cancer. Those who learn that indeed they might have the disease will face biopsy. Those who do have cancer will face treatment choices, side effects, and uncertain outcomes.
Now, to be sure, one reason for questioning a stampede into the urologist's office is the fact that some of the prostate tumors most curable by radical intervention are those least likely to prove fatal in the average man's lifetime. Does this mean that men would be better off to go back to what their grandfathers and fathers were forced to do for lack of early detection - leave their prostates in the dark unless symptoms developed?
Regush says Dole sounds like "a bleeding-heart liberal." Well, Regush, even though he never points to the genuine dilemma above, sounds as though he's been hyped by some health policy wonk. But his numbers are way off track. He claims no one under 60 or over 69 should get a PSA test. No responsible health authority in the USA would agree with that.
And you really can't take him seriously, when he seems to views prostate cancer awareness as a conspiracy to raise Pfizer's profits.
Men who have this cancer are not statistics. But advanced prostate cancer has been killing forty thousand American men a year. Let those who have the heart to ask what those men go through - and to rejoice with men like Dole, who may be cured - share their opinions. Let pundits have the grace to listen.
Screening for early detection of prostate cancer is controversial. The discussion gets polarized; evidence is crucial. We'll take a crack at putting the pro's and con's four square, which Regush does not do. But this issue reaches far beyond intellectual debate.
Sneers at "crusty" Bob Dole slur the 39,000 men expected to die of prostate cancer this year. To fail to alert all men about this threat to their health says that real men are worth less than imaginary men. That is, less than the imaginary men who "may inevitably" undergo "needless pain and stress" from taking a PSA test.
This is propaganda worse than any TV commercial. Regush and other columnists and health reporters have been led to equate the PSA test with forced mass screening. With so little concern for real men who have prostate cancer, this hoo-ha about pain and stress of statistical men is phony.
You'd think Bob Dole had committed a crime. All he's done is overcome shyness and reticence to talk in a warm, calm tone about a scourge that's not supposed to be taken too seriously. The shocker for some members of the medical and media establishment is seeing a patient-to-patient kind of counseling, which goes on all the time in support groups and online.
Sure, Bob Dole conveys the impression that for him cancer hasn't been too bothersome. But he cares about other men. He wants other men to take this cancer seriously and give themselves a chance of beating it, as he has done.
- Ralph Valle: Replying to Regush
- Jim Fulks Gives ABC 2 Thumbs Down
- Dr.Gabriel Feldman Explains Media Comments on "Mass Screening"
- Prostate Cancer TIMELINE
This article is archived from March '99.