Sunday, February 16, 2003

Prostate cancer: More awareness needed

Whatever Sen. John Kerry's merits are as a presidential candidate, he already has performed an important public service with a candid discussion of his prostate cancer.Kerry's doctors expect him to fully recover, following surgery last week. We wish him well.

Kerry, 59, fits into a high-risk group for prostate cancer. He is over 50 and he has a family history of the disease. But caught early, at it was in Kerry's case, this type of cancer is highly curable.

In explaining his condition at a press conference last week, Kerry credited regular medical examinations for the early detection of his case. According to the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, prostate cancer kills more than 30,000 American men each year, or roughly one death every 20 minutes. The American Cancer Society said about 220,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. It is particularly deadly for African-American men. More than 25,000 men in this group are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, a rate 60 percent higher than that of Caucasian males. And more than 6,000 die.

But the disease usually is easily diagnosed through a physical exam and a blood test. All men over 40 should have such routine checkups.

Kerry is the latest in a long list of public figures who have had prostate cancer, including religious broadcaster Pat Robertson (who will have surgery Monday), Rudolph Guiliani, former Sen. Bob Dole and retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Kerry's health obviously will be a concern as he campaigns for the Democratic nomination for president in 2004, but given his prognosis, there is no reason to think he will not be fit for the office.

Whether he gains the nomination or not, he can use his bully pulpit to push for increased federal funding for research (now at $438 million compared to $900 million for breast cancer research, for example). He can also encourage other men to follow his example in getting routine checkups.

Early detection is the best way to beat prostate cancer.

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