Education programs needed for prostate cancer

Disease is more common, lethal than breast cancer

TOO MANY MEN are still trying to run away but they cannot hide from prostate cancer.

I was one of those men—until a diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2008 brought my racing plans to a screeching halt. After having competed in over 60 marathons, in harsh weather conditions and against some of the fastest men in the world, I am proud of running and winning seven major events on five continents. But I couldn’t run and hide from prostate cancer. Winning my battle against this disease has been one of my greatest victories.

While I am not running in this year’s Boston Marathon, this is a good time to call attention to the prostate cancer epidemic, which strikes as many as one in seven men. It is more common than even breast cancer. And yet, as a Commonwealth, we have yet to invest in the kind of awareness and education programs for prostate cancer that transformed early detection and treatment of breast cancer.

This lack of investment in public awareness and education has created today’s reality: Prostate cancer is more lethal than breast cancer in Massachusetts, even though it is curable when detected early. Men of color are impacted disproportionately – they are 2.5 times more likely to die by the disease.

Over the last few years, we have seen exciting information from the leading national hospitals, including Dana Farber Harvard Cancer Center, for improving early detection of life-threatening prostate cancer and decreasing over-diagnosis of its indolent strains that are not likely to cause problems in a man’s lifetime. However, in Massachusetts, the current gaps in education and awareness lead not only to the annual loss of over 600 lives, but also to unnecessary treatment in about 2,000 men and unnecessary biopsies in over 20,000 men each year. These unnecessary procedures have decreased quality of life in countless men and added millions to health care costs.

This rampant disease leaves no family and no community untouched.

As tens of thousands of men run from Hopkinton to Boylston Street, I am calling on them to stop hiding from for prostate cancer and get screened. An American man dies every 18 minutes, and we lose Massachusetts men every day. With early detection and treatment, every man will be alive. With late diagnosis, every man’s life is at risk.

Massachusetts has the world’s leading hospitals. With education and awareness, we will bring the best options in patient care to every man in our state.

I am committed to ending the impact of the prostate cancer epidemic on our men, our families, and our communities. But it takes more than commitment; it takes resources.

Over the last several years, I have been supporting the AdMeTech Foundation, which brings together leaders in the Legislature, medicine, advocacy, and education to create a Massachusetts model of national leadership in prostate cancer awareness, education, care, and research. In 2013, the state supported a $1.5 million research program to advance early detection of prostate cancer, which is critical for saving lives. This year, with a modest state investment of $250,000 matched by the private sector, we have taken first steps in initiating a statewide program in awareness and education.

But we need to do more.

I will be sharing my personal story and commitment at the seventh Annual Prostate Cancer Awareness Day at the Massachusetts State House on April 16, an event featuring our governor, key legislators, advocates, and doctors who joined efforts to lead the way in ending the prostate cancer crisis.

We all need to commit to increasing public awareness and education so that every man will stop running and hiding from this disease to have a real chance to win his battle with prostate cancer.

Bill Rodgers is an Olympian American runner, best known for his victories in four Boston Marathons and four New York City Marathons. Rodgers is author of the book “The Marathon Man” and a prostate cancer survivor.

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