|Voices in PSA Rising Magazine|
Need to Know
Prostate cancer will strike approximately 317,000 men this year, and will be the cause the death of more than 41,000 men in 1997. Once thought of as an old man's disease, prostate cancer is now striking more and more men in their 40's, 50's and 60's. If detected early, prostate cancer can be cured. However, in many men the disease has spread beyond the prostate capsule before the cancer is diagnosed. Unfortunately, for these men there is no known cure for advanced prostate cancer.
This disease can be detected early through yearly physicals that should include a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE), and a blood test called Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). Most literature now states that these tests should be done every year after a man turns 50 years old. My husband was 45 years old when he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer last November. Had he started having yearly DRE's and PSA's when he was 40 years old, his cancer could have been diagnosed in an earlier stage, and perhaps might have been curable.
Prostate cancer and its treatment have a devastating effect on a man. Treatment for prostate cancer can cause temporary or in many cases permanent incontinence, difficulty urinating, impotence and infertility. Dreadful side effects that hit at the very core of manhood. As with women whose breast cancer has been treated by a mastectomy, a man who has been treated for prostate cancer experiences a great deal of physical, mental and emotional pain as he deals with the changes that treatment for his cancer brings to his life.
For men with advanced cancer that has spread beyond the prostate capsule into the seminal vesicles, lymph nodes or bones, surgical or chemical castration is the treatment used to slow the disease progression. Castration causes many life changing side effects that include: hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mental fog, muscle weakness, osteoporosis, impotence, lack of libido(sexual desire), penile and testicular atrophy. The average period of time that this treatment works before failing is 3 - 5 years. In other words, in most men who have been surgically or chemically castrated to control their disease, their cancer will become resistant to this treatment, and begin to grow once again within 3 - 5 years.
As their cancer once again begins to grow, these men will develop multiple bone metastases that will slowly, like molasses, eat away at their bones. They often spend the last months of their lives in extreme pain as their bones are literally `eaten up' by their cancer. Often these men must hobble around on canes, and because their bones are so brittle, can easily snap bones by just breathing or moving in bed. At some point, many of these men beg for death to take them away from their suffering. This is the reality of prostate cancer. This is very different from the picture of prostate cancer that is depicted by celebrities with prostate cancer that are interviewed by the media.
For far too long, the media has downplayed the devastating effects of prostate cancer by focusing on celebrities who have been affected by this disease. Often these celebrities are shown on television or in magazine articles a few weeks after prostate cancer treatment returning to the golf course with a smile on their face. Rarely, if ever, do these celebrities talk about the devastating side effects of this disease and its treatment. Even fewer celebrities acknowledge that 50% of men treated for prostate cancer will have recurrence of their cancer within five years of treatment.
In this country, prostate cancer research is poorly funded when compared to other diseases. More than 41,000 men will lose their lives to prostate cancer this year, about 45,000 women to breast cancer, and 40,000 people will lose their lives to AIDS. The numbers of deaths caused by these three diseases are quite similar, yet the amount of money spent on research for these diseases is unfairly distributed. The federal commitment to prostate cancer is about $67 million, while $415 million goes to breast cancer research and $1.6 billion is allocated for AIDS research.
This difference in research funding is indeed alarming for those whose daily lives have been affected by prostate cancer. Unless a cure is found, my 46 year old husband has an estimated life span of three to five years. During that time, my sons Jason (13), Adam (9) and Seth (8) and I will watch as this young, vibrant man slowly deteriorates over a period of time. We will have to watch helplessly as his disease progresses, and will someday lose this wonderful man from our lives unless a cure is found.
National Prostate Cancer Awareness Week has now passed, and with National Breast Cancer Month about to begin, I am afraid that prostate cancer will once again be forgotten. Breast Cancer awareness has been generated by women who have been willing to speak out about their disease, its treatment and side effects. Men with prostate cancer have not been as willing to be as vocal about their disease, as many are embarrassed to share the devastating side effects of this disease with the world. An embarrassment that may cost them their lives if a cure is not found.
For those men over 40 years old who are not being yearly screened for prostate cancer, I encourage you to begin yearly physicals that include PSA's and DRE's. Many physicians are reluctant to perform these tests on men under 50 years old, so men under 50 must demand that these yearly tests be done. These tests can save your life! Waiting until he was 50 years old would have been too late for my husband.
For those men who have already been diagnosed with prostate cancer, I challenge you to be willing to promote awareness of this disease. Encourage any men over 40 that you come in contact with to have yearly PSA's and DRE's. Be willing to talk honestly about this devastating disease, as women with breast cancer have been willing to do, so that someday proper funding will be allocated for prostate cancer research. And for the family members and friends of those men with prostate cancer, I encourage you to speak out with honesty about how this disease has affected your lives. Contact your Senators and Congressmen and demand that research moneys be evenly distributed. Contact your local newspaper and television stations and ask that they present more accurate depiction of men with prostate cancer; tell them to stop downplaying the devastation of this life changing, life robbing disease.
Prostate Cancer Awareness must not be confined to one week a year. It must continue throughout the entire year. You or someone you love could be one of the approximately 868 men who will be diagnosed today with prostate cancer, or even worse, maybe you or your loved one will be one of the other 112 men who will die from this disease today.