Massachusetts lawmakers team up with Boston non-profit to launch statewide prostate cancer awareness program
By Shira Schoenberg
The cancer was caught early during a routine annual physical, and Kulik underwent surgery and treatment. He has had a clean bill of health ever since.
On Thursday morning, Kulik will join House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, other legislators, advocates and doctors to kick off a statewide prostate cancer education and awareness program.
“We feel that in many ways men are less open about discussing medical issues like this,” Kulik said. “A lot of attention is given to breast cancer, and rightly so. I think many people are surprised to learn that prostate cancer is actually every bit as high an incidence in our population as breast cancer, yet prostate cancer gets far less attention and far less discussion.”
The campaign is organized by the Boston-based non-profit AdMeTech Foundation, which promotes research, awareness, and education of prostate cancer. It is receiving $175,000 in state funding from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
The campaign will include community outreach and educational events, involving leaders in medicine, public policy and advocacy. It will focus particularly on Franklin, Hampden and Suffolk counties, which have the highest prostate cancer mortality rates in the state. It will target black men, older men and men with a family history of prostate cancer, all populations who are considered high risk for lethal prostate cancer. The effort will culminate in a September 2016 public conference on prostate cancer diagnosis, which will focus on expediting research and development of technology for prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Kulik has been active in promoting awareness of the disease and of the need for early screening, and in allocating state money for research into tools for diagnosing prostate cancer that are more accurate and effective than the current blood test and biopsy, both of which can have false results.
The Department of Public Health in 2013 funded a $1.5 million program to advance clinical trials for new diagnostics tools and imaging technology, and that effort is ongoing.
Kulik said he hopes the campaign will bring the same attention to prostate cancer as has been given to breast cancer or heart disease. “It is an extremely deadly disease if not caught early and treated, but if it is, it’s an extremely treatable and survivable disease,” Kulik said.
Antonio DeLesline, assistant coordinator for the Men of Color Health Alliance, a non-profit under the umbrella of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, said his organization plans to hold educational events to encourage black and Latino men to get screened for prostate cancer.
Part of the reason for the high mortality rate for prostate cancer among black men, DeLesline said, is “We just don’t go to the doctor.”
His organization has teamed up with Mercy Hospital to provide men with free health screenings, and he said men are not interested. He said men are uncomfortable talking about prostate cancer.
“If we really focus on educating the public, particularly men of color, we’ll see better results,” DeLesline said.
According to AdMeTech, African American men have a 60 percent higher incidence rate and 250 percent higher mortality rate from prostate cancer than the general population.
State Sen. James Welch, D-West Springfield, chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, said from a health standpoint, prostate cancer is a major issue, particularly for black men. According to AdMeTech, 600 men a year die of prostate cancer in Massachusetts.
“The numbers are startling, and certainly when you look at them in terms of especially the African American community, the numbers are something that we cannot ignore,” Welch said.
“Building the awareness around the issue, and getting men used to the idea that they have to get screened for prostate cancer, is something that’s been a challenge,” Welch said.
Like Kulik, Welch said the goal is to build up the same type of awareness as exists for breast cancer. “Women need to be screened for breast cancer. Men need to be screened for prostate cancer,” Welch said. “That’s just the way it is.”