Some of the largest cancer institutions may be looking at the latest facts and figures about the disease with rose-colored glasses. Many have touted an overall projected reduction in cancer deaths by 2.2 percent this year, and have also stated little concern about a forecasted increase in prostate cancer deaths, despite death tolls from the disease in 2020 will be the highest they’ve been in two decades.
Some — including opponents to the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test — trumpet breakthroughs in treatment over the last decade as the primary driver for a reduction in prostate cancer deaths.
However, prostate cancer mortality rates have plateaued during a time that many consider a golden age of prostate cancer treatment discoveries. The tremendous growth in treatment options for advanced disease is saving lives. But treatments still aren’t a substitute for early detection. Prioritizing early detection is indisputable — 99 percent of men survive at least five years when prostate cancer is caught early.
A question I’ve often heard so far in the New Year is “What is causing the rise in prostate cancer deaths?” Part of the answer is that the risk of prostate cancer increases with age, and Baby Boomers are wading deeper into the risk pool.
However, the leading factor is the massive confusion around guidance for prostate cancer screening. As of recent, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, a government-appointed panel, has been the main driver of this misalignment by recommending against testing for the disease. Not only has this contributed to the increase in deaths and a flattening of mortality rates, but some doctors also elect not to screen. A few physicians have landed in legal trouble for disregarding screening or the PSA test, as a Vietnam Vet was recently awarded nearly $2M when his doctors ignored his PSA test results.
These deficiencies in the urgency and clarity around advising men to get tested for prostate cancer has resulted in more men being diagnosed later, which has led to more deaths. It is important to get beyond the headlines and focus on eliminating barriers to testing. At ZERO, we will focus on three important measures to solve the problem:
- State Screening Mandates
When it comes to prostate cancer, early detection can be the difference between life and death. Cancer-screening services reduce disease-related morbidity and mortality but many patients do not receive cancer-screening services as recommended. Cost is often a barrier, especially for patients whose insurance does not cover screening services. ZERO is working on a state-by-state effort to remove all cost-sharing barriers to ensure access to vital prostate cancer screenings.
- PSA Screening for HIM
ZERO is spearheading a bipartisan effort to introduce the PSA Screening for HIM Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The PSA Screening for HIM Act would allow men with the highest risk (African American or those with a direct genetic link) for aggressive prostate cancer to receive screenings without cost-sharing, regardless of their state of residence. This act is critical to the livelihood of men at high risk for prostate cancer and will bring the importance of early detection to the national stage.
- Research Projects
Later this year, ZERO is launching a new research initiative focused on improving the screening and diagnosis of prostate cancer. Our aim is to find new testing methods and speed the discovery methods of detecting aggressive prostate cancer and which treatments have the best chance to improve survival outcomes for each patient.
I’m optimistic that a change will come, but it takes your help to make it happen. I urge you to join other caring and energized individuals at the ZERO Prostate Cancer Summit in February. There, a diverse community of researchers, physicians, cancer survivors, patients, and advocates, will work together to take steps toward ending this awful disease. There’s still time to register; I want to see you there!