Sen. Kenneth DonnellySun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Sen. Kenneth Donnelly

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Mike Deehan

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON -- The American Cancer Society estimates that prostate cancer will kill 29,480 American men this year, with 233,000 being diagnosed with the disease. Three members of the Legislature are speaking out about their own battles against prostate cancer in an effort to elevate awareness of the threat and screening options.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer, Sen. Kenneth Donnelly and House Ways and Means Vice Chairman Stephen Kulik, all prostate cancer survivors, support the creation of a statewide prostate cancer education and awareness program. The goal would be to reach a consensus among stakeholders and experts, and to widely convey those practices to primary care providers.

Among the practices Brewer and the others want to promote is non-intrusive imaging scans for the prostate, which he called the male equivalent to a mammogram screening for breast cancer in women.

"It is more predominant than breast cancer, but yet the research and the remediation dollars are less than breast cancer. And so the term for this is 'manograms' instead of mammograms, to have the analysis of your own prostate," Brewer said.

According to the prostate cancer advocacy non-profit group AdMeTech, the most common current methods to diagnose the cancer are blood tests and traditional biopsies.

At a breakfast event last week hosted by AdMeTech, president and CEO Faina Shtern said the state of prostate cancer care "is barbaric."

"There's an overwhelming number of unnecessary and failed procedures. We are here to change that," Shtern said.

Lawmakers hope to make Massachusetts a model state for prostate cancer awareness and treatment.

"Most men will die with some form of prostate cancer. Most men will not die from prostate cancer. So some are faster growing than others," Brewer said.

Brewer said he and his colleagues are putting a public face on the effort. Brewer said he is "living proof" of successful treatment.

"I can write four budgets in a row at $35 billion a piece since I had my prostate removed," Brewer said.

Kulik was diagnosed in January 2002 and underwent surgery to remove the organ that spring during the House's "budget week." The Worthington Democrat said he's seen the stigma surrounding the disease decrease since his diagnosis, but that efforts to educate men about screenings are still necessary.

"Prostate cancer is one of those that does strike a very large number of men... and yet we don't talk about it as much. Men are much more reluctant to speak of it and yet it can be successfully treated," Kulik said.

Four or five years ago, Donnelly's blood tests came back clear, but a digital rectal examination led to a biopsy. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and eventually had surgery to remove it.

"If I hadn't gone and had that digital examination, they would have never found it and so the testing is so important," said Donnelly, an Arlington resident whose district includes Billerica and Burlington.

According to a spokeswoman, Brewer has supported funding for prostate cancer in the past, but no decisions have been made yet for the coming fiscal year's budget.

According to AdMeTech, the incidence of the disease is 19 percent higher than that of breast cancer in the state. The fatality rate is 7 percent greater for prostate cancer victims than that of breast cancer patients, the group reports.

Among the African-American community, the disease is almost three times more lethal than breast cancer, according to the Boston Public Health Commission. A BPHC report listed 27.5 prostate cancer deaths per 100,000 Caucasians in Boston, while 71.4 per 100,000 African-Americans die of the disease.

AdMeTech points out that funding for programs that treat, educate or work to prevent prostate cancer is 357 percent lower than similar appropriations for breast cancer. AdMeTech is funded mostly by the National Institutes of Health and other government grants. According to a spokesman for Shtern, less than 5 percent of the group's annual funding comes from for-profit medical businesses.