Legislation We Can Take to the Bank

Posted June 11, 2008 at 4:35pm

Several years ago, while waiting in line for a teller at a bank in Baltimore, I began talking to two friends who were discussing their recent operations for prostate cancer. One of these men was fortunate enough to have detected the cancer early on; his procedure was somewhat easy and his recuperation time short. The other, however, was suffering greatly — his cancer had gone undetected far longer.

Before I could leave the bank, another gentleman joined our discussion, sharing with us the news that two other men we all knew had recently discovered that they, too, had prostate cancer. This conversation was a stark reminder of the seriousness and pervasiveness of this all too silent killer, and I knew that I did not have the right to remain silent about the need for men to get tested for prostate cancer. As I left the bank that day, I renewed my commitment to do everything within my power to spread the word about the importance of early detection of this disease.

Many of us in Congress, and indeed throughout the country, have either personally been affected by prostate cancer or had a loved one suffer from it. My father was diagnosed with it. Although this disease has a higher incidence rate than that of breast cancer, advanced diagnostic imaging technologies comparable to mammograms still remain unavailable for men.

We need to be honest — our commitment to fighting prostate cancer has not made the necessary impact. The Department of Health and Human Services has yet to invest substantial resources in research to advance diagnostic technologies. As a result, there are currently no reliable diagnostic tools for early detection, accurate biopsies and appropriate treatment of the disease.

In fact, the implications of our lack of commitment have been grave for prostate health and our country’s health care system. Almost 30,000 men die each year, and more than 70,000 men — or about one in two — who are treated each year are failed by their treatment and experience a return of their prostate cancer. The statistics are even more alarming among African-American men, for whom prostate cancer strikes at a younger age, with a 60 percent higher incidence and a more than 2.5 times higher mortality rate.

Many men go through treatment that is not only unnecessary, but frequently causes impotence and incontinence. More than 1 million men have unnecessary and traumatic biopsies each year. We cannot ignore the relief that accurate and affordable diagnosis of prostate cancer will have on our health care costs — an estimated reduction of at least $5 billion annually.

As Members of Congress, we have a duty to act in the best interest of the American people. In this instance, we are protecting the health of our fathers, sons, husbands and brothers. Passage of legislation that I have introduced in the House (H.Res. 353 and H.R. 3563) will expand research and provide resources to develop innovative and advanced prostate-specific antigen testing and improved imaging technologies for early prostate cancer detection and treatment.

I call on my colleagues to join me in my battle to combat this curable disease and support this legislation to advance prostate health. With so many men losing the battle against prostate cancer, we cannot afford to sit silently on the sidelines. By providing the resources necessary to advance the treatment and detection of prostate cancer, we are providing legislation that men everywhere can take to the bank.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) represents Maryland’s 7th district.