Houston pro athletes, how about a show of support for Prostate Awareness Month? [Opinion]
We all have mothers, many of us have sisters, wives, and perhaps more of us have a daughter. We are all truly blessed. What would our lives be without these wonderful women to be a part of who we are? So when it comes to breast cancer awareness, diagnoses and treatment, we are all onboard. Supporting them in our lives by recognizing the challenges and the terror this disease presents is absolutely necessary. Whatever we can do to help, we will do - including wearing pink ribbons, pink socks, pink anything to show where we stand.
However, as a urologist dedicated to the diagnosis and management of prostate cancer, I am troubled by the lack of a similar show of support for our fathers, husbands, brothers, sons and male friends. It is not often that I see a show of blue ribbons or blue socks for prostate cancer, the most common cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in men. We have no wonderful Komen foundation. We have only each other, and September is our month.
Sure, in November, many men stop shaving as a salutary showing of support. The problem is that then we look like we are just joining a societal trend toward not requiring the old-fashioned, clean-shaven look. Heck, virtually all national hockey league players do not shave during the season (and maybe even off-season). The same can be said of many other male professional athletes - football, baseball and others. Few believe or seem to understand that this is in support of prostate cancer awareness. I congratulate the "Blue Cure Night Run" held during September, but where are our great hometown teams when it comes to this important message?
Speaking of male professional athletes, the last time I checked, well over half of all professional football and basketball players are African American. I am so pleased by their pink-ribbon support, but these men have the highest risk and the highest mortality rate in the world from prostate cancer. Awareness is critical, and I worry that it is a disease suffering from "unawareness." Professional athletes, black and white, should become aware for themselves, their fathers, their sons and their brothers.
Why has this occurred? One reason could be that men tend to be stoic. However, I believe it is in some degree due to a series of discussions carried out in the press that suggest prostate cancer is not a serious illness. The discussion usually concludes with "prostate cancer is a disease that all men get and nobody dies of." Not true! This year alone about 32,000 men will die of prostate cancer. Furthermore, the cost of treating prostate cancer that has advanced throughout the body is a significant part of the health care budget. It is an important disease.
There are certainly some men who have a nonaggressive form of prostate cancer that we can respond to with what is called active surveillance. Some of the early public discussions by some physicians have suggested that prostate cancer is overdiagnosed and overtreated, a guidance that has since been reversed. And while the number of prostate cancer diagnoses did go down during the time when PSA testing was discouraged, the number of aggressive, high-volume and metastatic instances of the disease did increase. The only appropriate solution is to find prostate cancer, treat those who need to be treated and avoid treatment of those who do not need to be treated.
Nonetheless, awareness is key, and appropriate evaluation is necessary.
So I am asking all of us to help raise the awareness of prostate cancer. I especially appeal to those in positions of influence, including professional athletes on our local teams - the Texans, Rockets, Astros and Dynamo - to stand up and be counted during prostate cancer awareness month. Wear a blue ribbon. Switch to blue socks. Wear a prostate cancer logo on your uniform somewhere. Whatever it takes.
Help us protect the men in our lives whom we love.
Miles is professor of urology at Weill Cornell Medical College and vice chair of the department of urology and medical director of robotic surgery at Houston Methodist Hospital.
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