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A fit, energetic 75-year-old, who still jogged faithfully every morning, Stanton Prentiss felt in the best of health. Then he discovered he had cancer.

The Edgewater resident was getting a checkup for another complaint when the physician found an abnormal growth. Prentisswas diagnosed with prostate cancer, one of the most common and deadly types of cancer among older men.

Three years later, after undergoing radical surgery, Prentiss is in top form again. He's "clean as a whistle" and back to his regimen of running, working out with a speed bag and doing nightly push-ups.

He considers himself lucky that the cancer was detected so early. If he hadn't gone to the doctor for an unrelated problem, Prentiss said, he easily could have been another statistic.

"If it's not found in the early stages, you're dead," said Prentiss, a retired engineer from the Goddard Space Center in Prince George's County, who is busy writing his 47th book on electronics.

Prostate cancer is one of the least talked about, but most dangerous diseases for men ages 40 and older. It's the third most fatal form of cancer, after lung and colo-rectal cancers.

It's also one of the most ignored diseases in the United States.

For years, men have disregarded the risks. Most shun talking about the subject and routinely skip their recommended annual exams. They figure it just won't happen to them, physicians say.

Statistics show that kind of blind faith can be dangerous. At least 32,000 men are expected to die of prostate cancer this year, according to the Prostate Cancer Education Council. Another 122,000 will develop the disease in 1991, the council predicts.

National cancerassociations began a campaign last year to raise awareness about thedisease, which can be cured if detected in its early stages. They are pushing annual exams for all men over the age of 40.

"A lot of men aren't aware of prostate cancer, or they are aware and just ignoreit," said Dr. Edward M. Zagula, an Annapolis urologist associated with the Anne Arundel Medical Center.

"It's becoming one of the mostcommon male cancers. The thing with getting the word out is that if you catch it sooner, the chances of curing it are much higher."

Anne Arundel Medical Center and Harbor Hospital Center in Baltimore areoffering free screenings this week to mark the second National Prostate Cancer Awareness Week.

Prostate cancer exams will be availableat Anne Arundel Medical Center's Oncology Center on Jennifer Road today and Thursday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Harbor Hospital is offering screenings at its outpatient clinic from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday.

"We hope that when people see statistics like one man in 11 develops it, and realize some of those deaths could have been prevented, they willgo for their exams," said Dr. Robert Goldstein, a Baltimore urologist associated with Harbor Hospital.

The biggest problem is getting older men to realize they're at risk of developing prostate cancer, area physicians said.

"Men just don't want to talk about it," Goldstein said. "I don't know if it's an ego thing or what, but you just couldn't get men to come in for these exams for years."

Last year'sawareness week prompted many of his patients to sign up for a screening, Zagula said. He and the other physicians giving the exams will encourage participants to get regular checkups. With routine screenings, many deaths could be prevented, Zagula said.

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