By Steve and Heather French Henry, Kristy Young and Melissa Karrer
Cancer screenings save lives among men. But with the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, too many Kentuckians are forgoing or delaying their annual health exams and cancer screenings. By putting off these important doctor appointments, we risk trading one public-health crisis for another. We cannot risk more late-stage cancer diagnoses when most cancers can be found and treated with an early screening measure.
September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. And fortunately, our elected leaders in the Kentucky General Assembly also recognize the importance of these potentially life-saving cancer screenings. During the 2020 legislative session, the General Assembly voted to designate September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month to encourage early prostate screenings for Kentuckians. The message they intended to send is now more important than ever.
Prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in the United States. Right here in the commonwealth, 2,681 Kentuckians will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year alone and 385 men will lose their battle to this life-threatening disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Because prostate cancer grows slowly, it is likely to be found in an early stage through a screening test, such as a simple blood test called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or digital rectal exam. And the good news is that when caught early, individuals have a 90% chance of survival.
Unfortunately, data shows that urologists are diagnosing prostate cancer at far more advanced stages compared to the last five years. And this means the treatment options become more aggressive and survival rates significantly decrease.
That’s why early detection is key to finding prostate cancer in its earliest and most treatable stage. Even during a health crisis like the one we are currently in, it is important to make sure to take care of your health and talk to your physician about when you should be tested.
The truth is cancer doesn’t stop because of a pandemic. We’re already heading down a dangerous road, as data from the JAMA Network shows a steep reduction in new cancer diagnoses this year compared to last, which means we can expect to see a rise in late-stage cancer.
This is not the time to wait until you have symptoms to visit your doctor. It is safe to do so. And the minimal risk outweighs the potential harm. Early detection is key to beating cancer and saving lives. When we raise awareness about early prostate detection, we are giving more men the opportunity to live long, healthy, cancer-free lives.
Let’s all encourage our fathers, brothers, husbands, family, friends and all Kentuckians to schedule a time to talk to their health care providers about if they should get a prostate cancer test and be screened for other cancers. Their lives could depend on it.
Steve Henry is a physician and former lieutenant governor. Heather French Henry was Miss America 2000. They are with the Kentucky Prostate Cancer Coalition. Kristy Young is with the Kentucky chapter of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and Melissa Karrer is with the Kentucky Cancer Link.