DESERAI CROW: Prostate cancer screenings can save lives

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In September, 2014, my husband Jason and I lost our friend Rick to prostate cancer. Jason and Rick met in Afghanistan when they were in the Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion. Rick served in our nation’s most elite military units and spent a good part of his adult life in Afghanistan and Iraq. But when he came back home, prostate cancer took him when he was only 45.

One in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men in the U.S after skin cancer. As a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program and Rick’s friend, I want to share the following information as we observe Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

An estimated 191,930 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2020, with over 3,100 cases expected in Colorado alone. Yet, all men do not face the same risk. Black American men are 60% more likely to be diagnosed and more than twice as likely to die of the disease than white men. They are also more likely to get prostate cancer at a younger age and have more advanced and severe disease when it is diagnosed — harrowing statistics that show the need to improve access to health care for all Americans. Older age and a family history of prostate cancer are also risk factors. Men who have a father, brother or son who have had prostate cancer are two to three times more likely to develop the disease.

The good news is fewer men are being diagnosed with and dying from prostate cancer. The decline may be attributed to changes in screening guidelines. Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing was once widely recommended for those at average risk, but now experts recommend a shared-decision making process with your doctor to decide if testing is right for you. Many prostate cancers grow slowly, and some diagnoses may lead men to be treated for cancers that would never cause them harm, while dealing with side effects of treatment. High levels of PSA could also indicate other conditions that are not cancer, such as prostate inflammation or enlargement.

If you are at average risk for prostate cancer, the Prevent Cancer Foundation encourages you to begin talking to your health care provider about the pros and cons of screening at age 50. If you are at increased risk, start this conversation earlier. If you have delayed a routine check-up or PSA test due to COVID-19, talk to your health care provider about the precautions they are taking to ensure safe conditions, and get those appointments back on the books. You may also be able to talk with your health care provider through telemedicine about PSA testing.

Although this topic might be an uncomfortable one to discuss with your healthcare provider or family, it is vital to your health. You may lower your risk of prostate cancer by getting regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables. To learn more, visit www.preventcancer.org/prostatecancer.

Help fight this disease and make sure that you or the men in your life stay healthy. Our family will always miss our good friend Rick, but we are determined to make sure that the other men in our lives stay healthy.

Deserai Anderson Crow is an environmental policy professor at the University of Colorado, the spouse of Representative Jason Crow and member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.