- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

ORLANDO, Fla. — Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in America and the lifetime odds of men getting it are 1 in 6, yet the disease has a much fainter mark than its female counterpart.

It is the only cancer that doctors debate not just how to treat, but whether they should at all. Nine out of 10 men don’t need treatment, but the rest will die, and there’s no good way to tell them apart. It also kills at a higher rate than breast cancer. Nearly 32 men out of 100,000 will die of prostate cancer; 27 women out of 100,000 die of breast cancer.

Advocacy has been weak. Men don’t like to wear little ribbons, and the field has suffered from lack of support.

Consider Dr. Ernie Bodai’s situation. The California surgeon got a special postage stamp that has raised a whopping $50 million to fight breast cancer, a disease he cuts out of dozens of women’s bodies each year. But he’s been unable to win a similar stamp for his own cancer.

“The prostate cancer community is 10 years behind the breast groups in terms of being acknowledged and coming forward,” he lamented. Now, many are trying to catch up.

More than 1,000 specialists, from surgeons to radiologists to dietitians, met in Orlando, Fla., recently for a first-of-its-kind conference similar to the breast cancer symposium that’s been held in Texas for 27 years.

“As San Antonio is to breast cancer, we want this to be for prostate cancer,” said Dr. Eric Small of the University of California, San Francisco, who organized the meeting with several big cancer organizations. What emerged from the three-day conference was a clearer picture of this murky disease and new insights into preventing, detecting and treating it. Among them:

• The immune system might be more effectively harnessed to fight this cancer than many other types. Doctors reported the first success using this approach.

• Smoking has less of an effect on prostate cancer risk than other cancers.

• Obesity affects the odds of dying from the disease more than the odds of getting it.

• Diet may play a key role. More is known about how specific nutrients affect the risk of prostate cancer than any other cancer type. Diet might even help explain why blacks have double the rate of the disease of whites.

• Treatments are improving. New techniques are minimizing surgery’s side effects and newer ways of giving radiation are allowing higher doses and better control of the disease.

More than 232,000 American men are expected to be diagnosed this year with cancer of the prostate, a walnut-shaped gland. About 30,000 will die of it.

Federal spending had risen to $390 million, but trailed breast cancer’s $699 million. The pattern is the same at the American Cancer Society, which made 175 grants totaling $98 million this year for breast cancer, and 63 worth $36 million for prostate. Still, getting men to face checkups is difficult.

The National Basketball Association recently started airing “Act Like a Man” commercials to foster awareness. Fortune magazine is donating $750,000 and has made prostate cancer its charity of the year. New York and California have started income-tax checkoffs for donations to research.

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