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The Great Dichotomy: Breast Cancer Versus Prostate Cancer

Only very recently have a few men begun to wonder why so much attention is paid to breast cancer research and awareness, but relatively little by comparison to prostate cancer. That breast cancer is a serious health issue is not in question. Over 40,000 American women succumb to the disease annually, and one in eight will contract breast cancer during her lifetime. Breast cancer is the third leading cause of death among women, behind heart disease and lung cancer, respectively. Still, the statistics for prostate cancer are sobering, with one in six men’s being affected -one in four for black men- and nearly 30,000 dying each year. When prostate cancer is in its early stages, there are virtually no symptoms. But the time, effort and money spent on fighting breast cancer versus fighting prostate cancer is anything but proportional.

Last year, the United States government spent $699 million for breast cancer research, compared to $390 million for prostate cancer. A more equitable disbursement might be $699 million and $468 million. The disparity is not solely economic, though. Commercials, public service announcements, news segments and magazine articles address the issue of breast cancer, but rarely touch upon health issues affecting men. Millions of cars’ bumpers sport pink ribbon decals, symbolizing breast cancer awareness. Since 1985, October has officially been Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Numerous national organizations such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation work tirelessly to ensure that breast cancer is at the forefront of medical research, and fundraisers such as their annual Race for the Cure, as well as countless other benefits on state and local levels, collect millions more in research dollars. Fundraisers and events for prostate cancer are rare, at best.

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Part of the fault lies with men, who need to be more vocal about their health concerns. Men often don’t like to think about their health problems, let alone discuss them. But if more progress is to be made, men need to mobilize by not only finding out as much as they can about the disease, but calling or writing local and state representatives to request more funding. Also, a lot of men are reluctant to undergo the uncomfortable, somewhat emasculating DRE (digital rectal exam). But a DRE coupled with a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test are very effective in detecting early stages of the disease. An annual exam is recommended for men over the age of 50, 40 for those men with a family history of prostate cancer.

There is hope on the prostate cancer front. In 2003, President Bush proclaimed September as National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and later that year, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a prostate cancer survivor, became the spokesman for the National Prostate Cancer Coalition. Founded in 1996, the organization has lobbied lawmakers to increase funding for prostate cancer research, and oversees the Drive Against Prostate Cancer, which consists of mobile screening facilities that offer both a blood test and physical examination free of charge. According to NPCC, the 10-year survival rate is nearly 98% when the prostate cancer is detected early.