Early diagnosis is the key to successfully treating prostate cancer, but men have been alarmed by reports that screening can lead to overtreatment. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to men’s health.
I’m a prostate cancer survivor and I shouldn’t be. In 2007, a work colleague battling the disease urged his male friends to get screened. I had just turned 47 years old, had no symptoms and no known family history of prostate cancer, but my friend was fighting against a disease he knew would eventually take his life. His simple request was that I ask for a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test during my next physical.
I did not know what a PSA test was, but the simple blood test was quick, easy, and a lifesaver. A biopsy followed my test results and confirmed I had prostate cancer.
In April 2008, I had successful prostate cancer surgery. That’s when I became an unlikely men’s health advocate, but it was not long before an obscure federal agency suggested men were making a mistake by opting for a PSA screening.
Pints for Prostates
Shortly after my surgery, with the help of family and friends, I started a 501(c)3 charity called Pints for Prostates. I had a career in marketing and had been writing about beer since 1980, when I was a junior at Syracuse University.
My gut told me the universal language of beer was a great way to reach guys who typically ignore health messages and avoid doctor’s office visits. Our mission is to visit beer festivals, breweries, and beer bars to educate guys. It’s a simple mission complicated by conflicting messages.
In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a startling finding. They recommended against PSA screening, saying two studies indicated little life-saving benefit, suggesting testing caused overdiagnosis of slow-moving cancers that were unlikely to be deadly.
This amazed many in the prostate cancer community, since the death rate from the disease had been cut by nearly 40 percent in the two decades since the PSA came into widespread use. USPSTF’s announcement got a lot of media attention, causing many men to avoid screening.
It was not until 2017 that USPSTF, based on a new review of data from earlier studies, reversed itself and found PSA testing had indeed helped reduce the prostate cancer death rate. USPSTF now suggests “shared decision making” between men and their doctors on screening and treatment options.
Several important milestones have occurred since I was treated and when USPSTF initially suggested PSA tests were problematic.
The number of prostate cancer deaths in the United States, which had been declining since the early 1990s, started creeping up in 2016. It’s estimated 31,620 American men will die from prostate cancer in 2019. Data suggests most of these deaths could be prevented through early detection and appropriate treatment. The five-year survival rate for localized prostate cancer is 100 percent, while the five-year survival rate when the disease has progressed is just 30 percent.
Treatments for advanced stages of the disease have improved, helping to lengthen lives and produce better outcomes. Today, there are 3.1 million American men who have been successfully treated or who are living with the disease. Additional screening and diagnostic options are also coming into wide use, enabling men and physicians to determine the aggressiveness of the disease and whether “watchful waiting” is the best treatment plan.
Prostate cancer is a scary subject for guys. They don’t like to talk about the physical exam and they dread the potential side effects from treatment.
Pints for Prostates attempts to remove some of the fear by starting a simple conversation about men’s health. It helps that many of these discussions happen over a pint with other men who have conquered the disease. Our goal is to get guys to take charge of their health by getting an initial screening at 40 —35 for men with a family history or high-risk groups, like African Americans.
Last year, at 17 events across the country, Pints for Prostates provided free men’s health screenings to 1,043 guys —many of whom had not seen a doctor in years. They get their PSA score and data on lipids, glucose, and testosterone, providing warnings on heart disease, diabetes and other common men’s health issues.
The organization’s Crowns for a Cure campaign distributed 4.8 million branded bottle caps during September with the help of 60 breweries nationwide, designed to start conversations during September, National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
Men have a right to know their numbers and make informed health decisions with the help of medical professionals. As we like to say, “Get Tested. Live Longer. Drink More Beer.”
You can get more information on Pints for Prostates and upcoming events by visiting www.pintsforprostates.org.
Rick Lyke, Founder, Pints for Prostates, [email protected]