Awareness, screenings needed for prostate cancer

The news: Three weeks after undergoing prostate cancer surgery, Cook County Board President Todd H. Stroger announced in July that he is starting a countywide awareness program for prostate cancer.

Behind the news: Under a similar initiative started in 1999 by Stroger’s father, John, the Cook County Department of Public Health said it managed to screen only 244 men for prostate cancer in fiscal year 2006.

By comparison, the National Prostate Cancer Coalition and the Chicago Sun-Times sponsored prostate cancer screenings in the Chicago region in April and screened 3,695 men, 27 percent of whom were African American, according to Brooke Saltzer, spokeswoman for the coalition. Saltzer said public initiatives like this usually attract about 200 men a day.

According to the Office of Minority Health, a branch of the U.S. Department of Public Health, black men can be up to 60 percent more likely than white men to contract the disease and are twice as likely to die from it.

Kitty Loewy, public health department’s director of communications, acknowledged that her department’s screening number seems low but said, “Screenings are not part of what we get funded for.”

Instead, the department’s initiative, which received $85,000 in state funding this year, educated up to 16,000 people about the importance of screening through health fairs, distribution of brochures and other outreach efforts last year, she said.

Loewy added that more resources have not been put into screenings because the department has been able to conduct only “prostatespecific antigen” tests, or PSAs. To be truly effective, she said, PSAs should be coupled with another test, called the digital rectal exam, but the department currently does not have any capacity to offer both.

But Dr. Charles Lash, director of urodynamics and voiding dysfunction for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services, said that the PSA test alone is still beneficial. “It is reasonable to say that, although the sensitivity goes down, it is still worthwhile,” he said.

Sean Howard, spokesman for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services, which oversees the public health department, said more screening will be conducted once the county secures more funding. “Our goal is to go right into the screening business, but we’ve never been adequately subsidized,” he said. “We want to do more, but we can’t do it with the current level of funding.

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