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Cost-free prostate cancer screenings save lives (and we should know) | READER COMMENTARY

To screen or not to screen for prostate cancer is a question that men aged 55 to 69 should decide themselves in consult with their doctors, according to finalized guidance from an influential panel of health care experts.
To screen or not to screen for prostate cancer is a question that men aged 55 to 69 should decide themselves in consult with their doctors, according to finalized guidance from an influential panel of health care experts. (Frame grab from Associated Press video)

We are both men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Our journeys to diagnosis were different: One of us was a firm believer in screening due to a family history of the disease, and the other was reluctant and uninformed.

However, after our individual diagnoses, we both became passionate advocates for early detection. We were both devastated but determined to fight our own battle while making other men aware of their own risks.

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As Maryland residents, we were excited to learn about legislation from Del. Erek Barron and Sen. Malcolm Augustine that would help increase access and affordability for prostate cancer screenings (“Insurers should cover full cost of prostate cancer screenings,” Feb. 21). Finally, men aged 40-75 who, according to population data from 2018 account for almost half of Maryland’s men, will have the chance to beat the disease before it beats them.

In 2019, Maryland had the eighth highest prostate cancer incidence rate in the country. Now, in 2020, prostate cancer will be the most diagnosed cancer among men in Maryland — so much so that it’ll be diagnosed at a rate nearly double of the next most prevalent cancer for men in the state (lung and bronchus). With this legislation, Maryland can make history by becoming the second state in the nation committed to protecting the rights and wallets of prostate cancer patients. Like many medical tests, medical costs and fees can add up. No patient should be deterred from receiving a lifesaving test due to cost or unanticipated fees.

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The newly introduced legislation from Delegate Barron and Senator Augustine removes all cost-sharing fees (co-pays, etc.) associated with prostate cancer screening tests — both the digital rectal exam (DRE) and the prostate-specific antigen test (PSA). Both tests are proven to detect cancer in the prostate gland and help inform treatment plans if cancer is indeed detected.

By making prostate cancer screening cost-free, the disease would finally have parity with breast cancer screenings (mammograms) and ovarian cancer screenings (pap smear). Both diseases have screenings that infer no cost-sharing fees and, further, are genetically linked to prostate cancer. Additionally, prostate cancer and breast cancer have similar incidence rates — both impacting about nearly 15 percent of the national population.

Prostate cancer often presents without symptoms making regular screening imperative to a man’s chance of survival. If caught early, the disease has a nearly 100% chance of survival. Alternatively, if the cancer is detected too late, the chance of survival drastically drops to only 30%. Removing barriers to prostate cancer screening and diagnosing prostate cancer at an earlier stage is much more cost-effective than treating late-stage prostate cancer.

It’s especially important to make screening for this awful disease accessible and affordable since prostate cancer deaths are on the rise. New reporting from the American Cancer Society shows that in 2020, the number of men who will die from prostate cancer will hit a record high over the last two decades with an increase of 5% since just last year. By making prostate cancer screening accessible and affordable, more Maryland men can have their lives saved from cancer.

Today, we both feel grateful, lucky and blessed. If it wasn’t for a prostate cancer screening, we wouldn’t be here today. It’s up to us, patients and survivors, to help save the lives of other men and make them aware of their disease risk. One way to do that is through this powerful new legislation, which has the power to save lives. Without cost-sharing fees attached to screening, more men can access prostate cancer screening without barriers. This means more lives saved, more families kept intact and more proof of the power of early detection and advocacy.

Robert Ginyard and Phil Shulka, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, chairman of the board of ZERO - The End of Prostate Cancer, and a volunteer and mentor to men recently diagnosed with prostate cancer with that organization.

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