WASHINGTON, D.C.—The newly created Congressional Prostate Cancer Task Force convened for the first time last Wednesday to hear expert testimony against the United State’s Preventive Services Task Force’s recent draft recommendation, which would block access to early prostate screening tests. Speakers included Reps. John Barrow and Tom Price, M.D., Dr. Chiledum Ahaghotu, Chief of Urology at Howard University Hospital and Dr. Tom Berger, Executive Director of the Veterans Health Council. The Prostate Cancer Task Force was created by the Congressional Men’s Health Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Joe Baca, Jon Runyan, and Heath Shuler. The briefing was co-sponsored by the Men’s Health Network, a health care non-profit working to reach men and their families with health prevention tools, screening programs, and educational materials.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer for American men, one in six of whom will struggle with it during their lifetimes. This year, more than 240,000 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Mortality has declined nearly 40 percent since early detection through screening was introduced, but 33,000 men still die of prostate cancer annually. Now the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued draft recommendations which would dismantle early screening by telling health insurance policies to discontinue use of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.
Barrow spoke from his experience as a prostate cancer survivor.
“The PSA test presents a great advantage for stopping prostate cancer and nipping it in the bud really, really early,” he said. “The USPSTF recommendation discourages the screening on the theory that ignorance on the PSA is not only bliss, but actual good public policy. To abandon early screening of prostate cancer is basically to ask men to play Russian roulette with their prostate cancer odds. You know the gun has six chambers, you want to know if there’s a bullet in it.”
“I’d like to thank Congressman Barrow for the leadership he has shown in the fight against prostate cancer,” said Men’s Health Network Vice President Scott Williams. “Today’s briefing helps refocuses the conversation on what we can do right now to save lives. Especially for men at high risk — like African Americans and Veterans exposed to Agent Orange — this is an issue that cannot wait.”
“We cannot stand by and let the USPSTF’s recommendation to drop early screening happen,” warned Dr. Tom Berger, Executive Director of the Veterans Health Council. “Doing so would be a major setback for Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. Veterans exposed to Agent Orange are twice as likely to suffer from prostate cancer as veterans who were not, and are four times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer that has spread beyond the prostate.”
In the closing address, Dr. Chiledum Ahaghotu provided detailed background on the current state of prostate cancer, including treatment and screening options. He concluded by providing his views on the USPSTF’s recommendations, calling it a broad sweeping policy that doesn’t work for individual men.