Saturday, September 8, 2012

SU2C Telethon: Good, But Why Not More On Prostate Cancer?

A few of the celebs featured last night (L-R):Stacy Keibler, Jeremy Renner and Minka Kelly

Having not long been diagnosed with prostate cancer, I decided to watch last night's telethon: "Stand Up to Cancer" - on all the major networks. (I settled on HBO). The presentation was good and laced with performers, such as Alicia Keys, as well as spots featuring people (especially several pediatric cancer patients) fighting the disease, including an 11-year old, Justin Miller, who distracts himself from treatment by building battleships with Legos. He's been fighting his neuroblastoma since the age of 3.

At one point, in a spot video, he says:

"I don't really think about me passing away. But if I ever do, I'm taking my Legos with me,"

There were other extended segments ("vignettes") including of a woman (actually the director who has done all the Stand up for cancer presentations) with breast cancer, now deceased. Another spot featured a woman with pancreatic cancer who managed to survive, and a former K9 cop from Baltimore dealing with lung cancer.

Michael Douglas, no longer looking as brash as "Gordon Gekko", came on early, announcing:

"It picked a fight with the wrong guy. Cancer didn't bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet. I stand tonight because I want to be part of this effort to find an end to cancer. This is possible."

Douglas found he had stage 4 throat cancer about two years ago.

Then there was Samuel L. Jackson who did about a two minute spot on prostate cancer, joking about men's distate for doctors (he's correct) and warning that men (especially African-American) need to "get their butts to their doctors, literally" to see about this disease. Not mentioned at all, was the fact it's the 2nd leading cancer and killer of males (29,000 deaths a year, 220,000 new cases diagnosed each year) and also is eminently treatable if caught early.

Basically, given the status of this killer cancer, I believed it was given short shrift, in favor of the more emotionally-grabbing (and heart rending) pediatric cases which consumed at least one fourth of the program, if not more.

While prediatric cancer is assuredly not a "blip", at least 13,500- 14,000 are diagnosed each year between birth and the age of 19 (according to stats from the American Childhood Cancer Orgnization) this can't compare with the more than 15 times greater frequency for prostate cancer.

Also, while the incidence of childhood cancer deaths is not insignificant, at about 2,500- 2,800 each year, this can't compare to the morbidity for prostate cancer at more than ten times that rate. Yes, cancer in a child is certainly gross, and we think in terms that this is somehow "against nature" or the order of the way things ought to be. Kids maybe get colds, flu or even whooping cough- but never cancer! That's a disease for the middle-aged or elderly, e.g. those "who've already lived most of their entire lives", so who cares about particular "old man" cancers of the prostate (there's more than one type) anyway? (Well, everyone with a father, brother, uncle, cousin should!)

But this is exactly the wrong tack and mindset to take, and it also contributes to the dire splitting of resources to tackle all cancers, as well as the causes.

At the very least, after Samuel L. Jackson's brief mention, there could have been a short personal story, say of someone's loved one losing their life to this disease, or maybe the new technologies - especially in the case of modern radiation planning treatments - which spare men the costly side effects of surgery. But there was nothing, which was disapppointing. Yes, The Prostate Cancer Foundation ( ) was mentioned, but how many viewers would really visit the site?

Near the end, Tom Hanks said: “Let’s build a world where cancer is no more”

That's a fine sentiment, bold to be sure, but such a world will never materialize unless we address the tens of thousands of toxic chemicals, carcinogens that are flooding the environment. These chemicals play an enormous role (never mind their manufacturers say "there's no empirical evidence of any connections to cancers") See, e.g.

Unless we can control and monitor those toxins, and people's exposure to them (which will be very difficult under a hyper-deregulated Romney administration) cancer rates will never be cut, no matter how much we change to veggie diets, or how many pounds we take off. The show last night contained a crawler blurb that 40% of cancers are traceable to these factors, and maybe genetic too, so that leaves up to 60% arising from environmental causes - which Devra Davis also cited in her 'Secret History of the War on Cancer'.

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