Marcus Allen, an NFL Hall of Fame running back and football analyst, won’t be the only one glued to the Big Game this weekend, when the Baltimore Ravens challenge the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. It promises to be a great one, a battle of the Harbaugh brothers that should make parents everywhere envious—well, except maybe Archie and Olivia Manning. But for Allen, perhaps even more important than this great American tradition is what the NFL is tackling on the sidelines. Together with the Urology Care Foundation, the league has launched the “Know Your Stats” About Prostate Cancer campaign, an initiative to encourage men to talk to their doctors about whether they should be screened for prostate cancer.
Now, while I might seek immediate medical attention for, say, chapped lips, fearing it could possibly be the first symptom of Mad Cow Disease, we all know that most men are notoriously negligent when it comes to seeing a doctor. In fact, when the Super Bowl is on, my husband, The Lawyer, probably wouldn’t go to the ER if a hot and spicy fried chicken wing were to accidentally lodge down his throat. And the truly scary part about prostate cancer is that there are often no symptoms, nothing to set off any alarms—and, sadly, the disease can be deadly.
Indeed, prostate cancer affects one in six men, and more than 240,000 men in the U.S. were estimated to be diagnosed with the disease in 2012. To make matters worse, it’s the second leading cause of cancer-related death among men. Luckily, however, the five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent for people who detect and treat the disease early.
Marcus Allen understands exactly how important prostate cancer awareness is and became involved with ”Know Your Stats” after learning that the disease does, alas, discriminate. “Prostate cancer is especially prevalent in African American men, who experience both the highest incidence and highest mortality rates of the disease,” says Allen, who is a spokesman for the campaign. “My friend and NFL legend Mike Haynes is a great example of how early detection saves lives. He underwent a free prostate cancer screening and learned he had prostate cancer on the same day he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was a life-changing moment, but Mike started treatment right away and now lives cancer free.”
To that end, Marcus Allen shares some practical tips to help the men in your life prevent this insidious disease:
• Men over 40 should be screened annually for prostate cancer. If your loved one is African American and/or has a family history of the disease, though, he should begin getting tested earlier.
• Despite the fact that prostate cancer is often symptomless, if your man suddenly has urinary symptoms and discomfort, pelvic pain, blood in the urine, painful ejaculation, weight loss, lack of appetite and/or bone pain, he should speak to a physician ASAP.
• Encourage your loved one to eat healthfully, avoid smoking, exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and maintain a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 to help prevent the disease!
Furthermore, the most common methods of prostate cancer detection are a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, or a digital rectal exam. But as you may be aware, last year the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against routine PSA testing due to a concern of over diagnosis and unnecessary treatment. There is still disagreement on this issue, but groups like the Urology Care Foundation, National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Urological Association argue that PSA testing is still the best method we have for early detection, which can save lives.
According to Brantley Thrasher, M.D., chairman of urology at the University of Kansas Medical Center and spokesman for the American Urological Association, the USPSTF recommendation may have men confused about the value of this screening tool. “Despite its limitations,” he stresses, “the PSA test is still the most accurate screening tool we have. It’s a simple blood test and can detect early-stage cancers that a digital rectal examination would miss. It’s what happens after diagnosis that can be problematic; over or unnecessary treatment can cause problems for those who are better off monitoring the progression of the disease, especially for older men with a low-grade cancer.” The doctor concludes that knowledge is power; and in the past few years, more and more men who undergo PSA screenings and learn that they have cancer have opted to pursue active surveillance. This means that they frequently monitor the disease and postpone treatment until it advances, sometimes avoiding potentially life-altering side effects for several years.
For more information on the “Know Your Stats” campaign, and to learn about the variety of tools and information the web site offers, including background on prostate cancer, treatment options and life after diagnosis, along with a search engine that helps people locate local urologists and free nearby prostate cancer screenings, please visit www.KnowYourStats.org.
After all, as Marcus Allen will tell you, a good defense is the best offense!