Congressional Prostate Cancer Task Force Briefing: "Cancer Screening: Dangerous or Life Saving?"

Dec 09, 2011, 16:24 ET from Men's Health Network

- First Public Briefing of Task Force Examines USPSTF Draft Recommendation -

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Congressional Men's Health Caucus and its Prostate Cancer Task Force held its first public briefing today to hear expert testimony regarding the United States Preventive Service Task Force's recent draft recommendation against the use of early screening tests for prostate cancer. The Men's Health Caucus and Prostate Task Force are headed up by Representatives Joe Baca, Jon Runyan, and Heath Shuler, who welcomed the featured speakers and spoke about their commitment to improving screening and treatment options for men with prostate cancer. 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% since early detection through screening was introduced, but 33,000 men still die of prostate cancer annually. Now the United States 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.

At today's briefing members of Congress joined an expert panel to discuss what was missing from the USPSTF's draft recommendations. Speakers included Dr. Chiledum Ahaghotu, Chief of Urology at Howard University Hospital and Dr. Tom Berger, Executive Director of the Veterans Health Council. Representative John Barrow and Representative Tom Price, M.D., were featured speakers as well. Representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen and Gene Green rose to lend their support.

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.

"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."

Representative Barrow spoke from his experience as a prostate cancer survivor, saying "The PSA test presents a great advantage for stopping prostate cancer and nipping it in the bud really, really early. 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."

Representative Tom Price, a retired physician, explained that "Because of the longevity of our lives, with the technology that's now available for screening and for treatment, we have turned prostate cancer from one of those diseases that kill into one of those that can be cured. Ensuring that early screening is available to men is of vital importance to their health. Medical decisions need to be between patients, their families and their doctors."

"I'd like to thank the representatives who spoke today for the leadership they have 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."

"This year alone, prostate cancer will claim the lives of more than 33,000 men in the United States," said Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC). "We believe this statistic is unacceptable and can be changed with better health education, detection, and preventative care. We simply cannot wait to see this devastating disease destroy even more lives before taking action---the time is now to act."

"One out of every six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in his lifetime," said Rep. Joe Baca.  "This is a serious disease that we must combat through better awareness and greater use of preventative measures.  I thank Reps. Shuler and Runyan for their bipartisan leadership on this important issue.  Working together, I am confident the Prostate Cancer Task Force will be a force for positive change in the health of men across the nation."

"Prostate health is a major concern for men of all ages," said Congressman Runyan. "Unfortunately there are too many men who are ignoring their prostate's health and this must change. During my career in the NFL, I was very involved with charities to help with prostate cancer research and I am glad I have been able to continue this work in Congress. As a member of the Congressional Men's Health Caucus, I am pleased to lend my support to this important cause."

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen rose to the podium to lend his support to prostate cancer screening, saying "This is not just about the man, it's about the family."

SOURCE Men's Health Network