By Colleen Quinn


STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 12, 2015….Public awareness about the prevalence of prostate cancer will boost early detection and decrease medical costs associated with the disease, according to cancer survivors and a doctor involved with research.

Thursday is annual Prostate Cancer Awareness Day. During a morning event at the Union Club, men who have had prostate cancer plan to describe why proper screening matters at an event that top legislative leaders plan to attend.

One of the biggest barriers to fighting prostate cancer is the lack of early detection and diagnostic methods, according to Dr. Faina Shtern, president and chief executive officer of AdMeTech Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on prostate cancer research.

One in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives, and more than 30,000 men die annually from the disease in the United States, according to AdMeTech.

AdMeTech is launching an awareness campaign to educate men in Massachusetts about the importance of screening, similar to efforts made decades ago around breast cancer. Proper screening will not only save lives, it will reduce the rate of unnecessary biopsies and unwarranted treatment, Shtern said.

Although prostate cancer is curable when detected early, it is expected to take the lives of over 600 Massachusetts men in 2015. In addition, about 2,000 men will have unnecessary treatment and over 20,000 men will have unnecessary biopsies, which may cause complications and inflate health care costs.

David Siktberg, of Wayland, did not know he had prostate cancer until he renewed his life insurance policy. “They tripled the price of my policy when they saw my PSA,” Siktberg told the News Service.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a substance produced by the prostate gland.

He went to a urologist, who immediately ordered a biopsy. Siktberg had advanced prostate cancer, but he says his primary care physician never acknowledged his elevated PSA levels. “All the time my PSA was rising and no one suggested I might want to look into it,” he said.

By the time he was diagnosed, the cancer was advanced, and treating it with just surgery was not an option, he said.

James Silverman, who lives on Cape Cod for part of the year, had a different experience. After a biopsy, he was told he needed surgery to have his prostate removed. His PSA levels were slightly elevated.

He decided to get a second opinion at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. After many tests, doctors in Maryland determined the cancer cells were so slow growing he didn’t need to have his prostate removed. The cancer was benign, doctors told him.

“They said ‘Go home, have a good life, and we’ll see you next year,'” Silverman said.

According to Shtern, appropriate diagnostic tools could avoid unnecessary treatment, and about 1 million unnecessary biopsies occur annually in the United States.

Research is underway to improve imaging tools.

In 2013, the state Department of Public Health provided $1.5 million in funding to conduct clinical trials for diagnostic imaging tools for prostate cancer. The clinical trials are expected to be completed by June 2016, according to Shtern. Shtern said the trials put Massachusetts on the forefront of imaging research.